Throwaway Style: Mating Surfaces and the Fractured Post-Punk of Lithics

Throwaway Style, Local Music, Album Reviews
Martin Douglas
Photo by Christie Maclean

Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.

Lithics are extremely reminiscent of a very specific type of band, the kind which mostly played factory basements in 1980s Essex. Much in the spirit of this, the Portland quartet exists spiritually in kind with New York City legends Bush Tetras; guitars-and-drums dance music broken into pieces with a hammer and glued together by sharp, staccato dissonance. There’s an artiness to it, but it still makes you dance, even when the tempos shift.

For the past few years, Lithics have trafficked in the kind of skittish post-punk completely unreliant on formalism; guitars sound alternately like plucked rubber bands, squelching bike horns, and industrial-strength digital clock alarms, the rhythms are herky-jerky to the point of causing whiplash. They practice the patchwork art of jagged song structure, piercing noise in fractured pieces where so many bands – with all due respect, good bands – of their kind and many others stick to a delightfully rigid backbeat.

On Mating Surfaces, out May 25th on Kill Rock Stars, the band rest on no laurels, the album abounds with exploratory approaches to their style.

Like most of what could be described as dance music, the band builds a foundation on their unpredictable rhythm section, even on songs which aren’t formally danceable. On penultimate track “Cheryl,” Aubrey Hornor and Mason Crumley’s cross-stitch guitar work creates a weaving rhythmic and harmonic synergy with the mechanical-yet-thrilling rhythm section; the bassline of Bob Desaulniers and drums of Wiley Hickson hitch onto a ¾ time signature, keeping pace like the finest Swiss clockwork.

Closer “Dancing Guy” starts with a nervously forward push and a spindly guitar line before squealing out into scribbles and putting itself back together. Opener “Excuse Generator” confines itself to a sprint while Hornor asks questions: “Can I talk?” “Can I see my dog?” “Can I be myself?” Songs like “Edible Door,” “Specs,” and “When Will I Die” are grounded by the rhythm section while the guitars – trebly and caustic, sounding the way a toothache feels – chicken-scratch all over the margins, finding melody in the deep abrasions.

Hornor’s double-tracked vocals are smooth and conversational; not like those of, say, an R&B singer, but her speak-chanting is far less jagged than other aspects of the album’s musicianship while still remaining every bit as minimalist as the band’s approach to instrumentation and songwriting. She almost sings the chorus of “Home,” the instrument that is her voice creating a singular element on the album. The lyrics themselves serve as an instrument on their own, using stark imagery and economy to paint a sparse amount of color over the few (yet highly functioning) moving parts in the music.

“Boyce” starts like a post-punk cover of a horror movie score and hardly lets up on the nihilistic tone when the guitars come together in the chorus and then split off into clanging, shrieking directions – and then when the process becomes rinse and repeat and eventually whines its way to the finish and peters out. In its 5:03 running time – more than double in length than most of the songs on Mating Surfaces – Lithics manage to take what could have been a minute-long jaunt, break it apart, stretch out the pieces, and form something of a journey in its transmogrified image. The band’s genius lies not only in the idea of doing so much with so little, but also creating an immersive experience with such serrated edges. It’s a storage locker party where everyone is dancing barefoot in glass shards but are having too much fun to notice.

New and News

Death Cab for Cutie to Headline Paramount Theatre's 90th Anniversary Show

photo by Sarah O'Connor


If you live in the Seattle area and enjoy live music, it's safe to say you've seen a show or two at the Paramount. To celebrate its 90th anniversary -- it's hard to say such a thing out loud and not think about the magnitude of such an achievement -- the concert hall will be putting on a free show featuring Death Cab for Cutie, Khu.éex’, and the Black Tones, with Street Sounds DJ Stas THEE Boss playing tunes and Hari Kondabolu hosting the event. The event is free, but all attendees must RSVP and the deadline is tomorrow, May 18th, at 10am. You can snag a spot for this big show here.

Live and Loud: This Week's Recommended Shows

May 17: The Briefs, DownTown, and Tough Times at Chop Suey

May 18: La Luz, Savila, and Ancient Forest at The Vera Project

May 19: Rogue Wave and Dear Boy at The Crocodile

May 20: Yonatan Gat, Darto, Bad Luck, and Geist & the Sacred Ensemble at El Corazon

May 21: Fever Ray and Bunny Michael at The Showbox

May 22: Hinds and Goodbye Honolulu at The Crocodile

May 23: The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Daydream Machine at The Showbox

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