In sports, fans often tether themselves to their home teams to the end. Look at the undying devotion that Bostonians have to their Red Sox and Chicagoans have to their Cubs. Neither team has won a World Series in nearly ninety years, but both towns’ fans are among Major League Baseball’s most tenacious. During the past twenty years, a similar mindset has permeated hardcore and its offshoots, with mixed results. One of the best examples of geography affecting music and vice versa is Washington D.C.’s Dischord Records. The label’s current crop is no different from Rites of Spring and Jawbox; its bands still push boundaries but incorporate politically-motivated songwriting with hardcore and the District’s indigenous music.
Black Eyes, whose members were barely sperm and egg when Minor Threat was playing out, wades in a musical swamp that looks at post-hardcore from a rhythmic perspective; the band is backed by two bassists, two drummers and an unrelenting saxophone. The bass throbs and the drum sets hit as hard as anything, but the guitars are in a supporting role. They’re less important, but nonetheless integral.
The band’s 2003 self-titled debut embraced all of the nuances of dance punk, but Cough steers that energy in a more experimental direction. Incorporating shades of free jazz and dub over the still-present dance-punk keystone, Black Eyes crafted an album that is both new and familiar. “Eternal Life” picks up right where the last album left off, but with one clear difference: the rhythm has been kicked up a notch or three and a saxophone comes to visit for the entire album.
“False Positive” is the absolute sweetest jam on the album. It has decidedly non-dance attributes, but it’s nonetheless catchy. The bass and drums wrap together in ways that they were most likely not intended to, and by the time you factor in the saxophone, it’s hard to pin a sound on the source. Likewise, the rest of Cough is an exercise in sound as a malleable object. And despite the inundation of sounds, most of these songs are fucking catchy.
It’s a cruel joke on fans that Black Eyes broke up right before they dropped this amazing album. But, as they say, we have our memories. Jacob Long was the band’s lifeblood, so it only makes sense for the group to dissolve upon his departure. It’s hard to say how Black Eyes will place in the history of Dischord, but that really isn’t important right now. What’s important is that Cough is the feel-good record of the summer, or something like that. To forsake this album is to miss out on a pure gem of 2004.