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"SXSW: Balaclavas at the Independent"

Who says Aftermath ain't rock n' roll?

On the way to see Houston's own Balaclavas at the Independent to debut new stuff off the soon-to-be released Roman Holiday, I abruptly hit a curb with bicycle. Luckily my elbow took one for the team. Well, it it ended up getting fractured and I have all kinds of internal business going on with it. But nonetheless I got back up and tied up my bike to a light pole and walked across IH-35 to catch the show. Which was alternately stupid or dedicated.

Balaclavas now features Rafe from the Dead Roses and the legendary Painteens on saxophone, which makes the new and old stuff sound like the Stooges circa Fun House. Tyler Morris' vocals have gotten even more frantically ominous and Brian Harrison is starting to do weird and beautiful shit on bass. Pretty much the whole game done changed. This is now my most anticipated release this year. - Houston Press

"Aftermath: Balaclavas and Black Congress, Lacquering the Walls of Mango's"

It's getting harder and harder every day here in Houston to find bands who know how to rock the ever-loving fuck out. Sure some of you do a good job at riding straight grooves and crafting shit-hot slabs of indie swoon. We appreciate the hell out of that smack, but some nights we want liberation, pain, and torture to soundtrack those hours of darkness. We dig love, but sometimes we have a bloodlust that needs an overture.
Say hello again to Balaclavas and Black Congress, two bands who couldn't sound and look any different but yet share the same genre-smashing intent and disregard for musical normalcy. It's the rare bill like this that also makes up for Aftermath being a poor disheveled rock journo, when two disparate tribes of heathens can team up to confound and astound him and his brethren for nearly three hours on a Friday night.

Boys keep swinging: three-man army Balaclavas.
It's always amazed us how the screaming and swirling post-punk trio Balaclavas can somehow sound like 17 people onstage. Remember this is the same band that Aftermath has muscled past a freshly broken elbow to see, so maybe we aren't the most ideal person to review this band. That all aside, Balaclavas came out proverbially swinging with new material from their long gestating follow-up to 2008's lauded Inferno.
Each new song seemed to lacquer the walls of Mango's as lead singer Tyler Morris alternated between keys and guitar, skronking out his drony vocals at a narcotic clip. The secret strength behind Balaclavas has been the agile drumming of Chaz Patranella, who does way more live than their recorded sound could ever belie.

Bryan Jackson of Black Congress, pre-shower
?Somewhere along the way Friday night, Aftermath jumped on Twitter to remark that seeing Balaclavas open for Black Congress was like The Fall opening for AC/DC. That utterance was quickly deflected like so many Matt Schaub passes, but we still see a lot of that band in Black Congress, especially in lead singer Bryan Jackson. But that is a disservice to the rest of the band, who seem to bring the rock as if they have a gun to each of their heads. - Houston Press


Balaclavas’ newest album shows a band that understands the narcotic that is atmosphere. “Inferno”, the title track, is drenched in a mist of swirling guitars, drones, and textures that ride alongside the incessant march of Charles Patranella’s drums and the pounding of the bass of Brian Harrison. Tyler Morris’ vocals cry out with a combination of fear and defiance as the band takes Dante Alighieri’s fevered dream opening of L’Inferno and spits their own blood back out. This is not a band that is content with merely signing a song but one that wants to push your idea of what a rock band should be on record, on stage, and as a creative endeavor.

When I first heard of Balaclavas the same adjective kept popping up – weird. Tyler’s quite familiar with that analysis, “People assume we’re being weird or dark for its own sake but, for us, it isn’t weird or dark – it’s jovial and satirical. Like in our album we poke fun at apocalyptic world views. Sure that may happen - but not right now. All that does is instill fear.”

Brian laughs, “We take those views and stick a thumb in that eye.”

Charles also can’t understand why people find them so odd, “When we write songs, nothing is brought in beforehand - we’ll improvise then take it and form a structure around it. People keep telling us we need to get inside this box…this world…but our music isn’t forced. When it is forced, it’s total shit and we drop it.”

For Brian improvisation is critical to any band; “There’s a point in every show where we don’t play it how we practiced. That’s how you know you have a connection with your band - when you can go off and they can follow.”

A band should be about taking risks says Charles, “When something doesn’t fuck up, you’ve fucked up. There are so many bands that are polished. Those bands are about the middle ground. I can’t stand the middle ground! The worst you can do is not get a reaction.”

“When I’m on stage,” explains Brian, “I don’t want to break the audience’s focus. I want there not to be apathy. It’s like a conversation – when you are talking someone has to listen.” Asked why not just stay home and listen to a record he replies, “Live music is immediate and of the moment but there is also a social aspect to it that’s important. People just don’t get out together aside from live shows and maybe sports.”

Tyler agrees that the social aspect is crucial, “I want the audience and the band to be whole. When I go to live shows I don’t see people communicating. What I see is a lot of nihilism. Fuck that! I want there to be a conversation! People have been consumed by culture to the point where they have nothing to say.”

Brian jumps in, “You can boil down American culture to two things: celebrity and over-consumption. Celebrity discounts normal life and over-consumption can’t last forever.” His point is that people shouldn’t be mindlessly consuming but making things, “You don’t have to be special to make a CD. It’s easy. If people understood how easy this is, there wouldn’t be this distance and when everyone produces media then it becomes democratic.” I suggest that with everyone making music there is a lot more clutter and that, to a large degree, digital downloads take away the fun of digging up an LP at the local record store but Brian chides me, “Don’t be overly nostalgic. Now, instead of kids trying to dig up albums, kids are making albums.”

Tyler elaborates on the value of creating, “I get into a trance. It’s like a shaman conjuring up sounds. It’s intellectually stimulating and entertainment is important - entertainment that lasts in your brain and that makes you think.”

“The thing is”, says Brian, “art and creativity is play but on a different level than a child - it’s adult play. It’s fun to communicate. With [corporate] mass media you are being talked down to and there is no communication; I sure don’t have anything in common with some executive in L.A., but at the grass roots level, you’re communicating with the audience and there is more sharing especially when it’s something handcrafted and DIY. The dollars are taken out and it’s all blood sweat and tears. ”

That is the thing that anyone who hears Balaclavas immediately understands- the making of music and how it is something that can be expressive, joyous, challenging, and inspiring. Balaclavas is a challenge to not approach music and life as it is given but to go out and find your own voice as they have or as Tyler puts it emphatically “Make something!”

- Houston Free Press


Balaclavas- Self-released EP
Inferno- Phonographic Arts EP
Balaclavas- Dull Knife
Roman Holiday- Dull Knife



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