Coal futures

 Punk band's second album is out-of-control good.
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  December 12, 2013


THE BORDER | Released by Coalsack in Crux | at Urban Farm Fermentory, Portland | Dec 14 | $5 |

Few musical styles have weathered more narcissistic blowhards and emptily nonconformist pap than country and punk. But those with shattered faith will find a redeemer in The Border, the thunderous second album of rage, regret, and reprobation by the Coalsack in Crux.

The group’s first album of gutturally charged and guitar-sparked scorchers, last fall’s Before, After, Forever, and Always, was something of a revelation, especially for a local punk scene that’s become too introspective and inscrutably garage-rocky the past few years. But it suffered slightly from a rough recording and a somewhat patchwork narrative thread, and too often sounded like the sum of its discretely compelling parts and players. The Border fixes that, soldering the group’s barreling cowpunk rhythm corps, the white-hot guitar lines of Leif Sherman Curtis, and the twisted convictions of Caleb Aaron Coulthard into a singularly unstoppable machine, like the Gun Club fronted by Birthday Party-era Nick Cave.

Not that Coulthard’s particular grain of baritone howl invites the comparison, but his songs’ tortured religiosity, the poetic narratives flickering with supplications to darkness and light, and the duende-thickened manner in which they’re delivered has notable antecedents. On “Book of Lies,” the record’s opener and first of several tracks at a breakneck gallop, he takes aim at the fraudulence of prophets and pundits, wailing “finding truth in a book of lies/tracing the roadmap within your eyes/king baby on his throne shaking a rattle/can’t see the war behind the battle” before the verse shatters into a maddening chorus. There’s no respite in the next track, Curtis’s “The Border,” a two-minute slasher whose serpentine guitar riff fixates its theme of love’s descent into animal terrain.

And it doesn’t let up. Even the album’s slowest, most labored-over tracks — the patriotic perversions of “Phar Lap” and the country yarn “New Eden,” both Coulthard songs made dizzy by Curtis’s guitarwork — fall in line with the record’s seething energy, its naked emotional subjectivity and complexly directed fury. The album’s most chilling moment, “My Friends Carry Knives,” is a beautifully allegorical Coulthard-penned country ballad wasp-stung into a seething revenge fantasy, with its final moments fading into a mysterious appendix: a vinyl-hissing recording, possibly a cover, of John Jacob Niles’s early American folk song “Go Away from My Window.” Coalsack may be just another band blazing new country roads and torching punk-historical monuments, but this sort of spirit stretches back a long way. And yes, they more than pull it off live.

THE BORDER | Released by Coalsack in Crux | at Urban Farm Fermentory, Portland | Dec 14 | $5 |

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