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Artist Feature: Scarcity Of Tanks – Sensational Grade + Vulgar Defender + Fear is not Conscience

It wasn’t so long ago that I reviewed an exceptional work in the world of dark ambient on the Lighten Up Sounds label from Cleveland-based artist David Cintron, a man whom is far more known for his experimental guitar, bass, and synth work in the project covered here, Scarcity Of Tanks.  That fact perhaps isn’t overly important though as his ambient work won’t find any purpose here though he and the other guitarist(s) certainly offered up a great deal of Sonic Youth-style grooving noise to accompany their ballsy style of garage rock.  Well, that and there’s also the unfortunate fact that he only appears on “Sensational Grade” out of these three albums — the project seems to be a bit of a ‘revolving door’ of collaborators these days outside of Matthew “Muug Shank” Wascovich.  Of course, the word “rock” here may be an unfair description and, perhaps to the band, somewhat deceiving. After all, the idea of “rock” is the ultimate, currently relevant commercial grasp on a scene that holds many of the world’s most artistic minds, and this music is an inevitable reaction to that fact, making Sonic Youth perhaps as unfair a comparison as any considering their own relative commercial success.  That in itself isn’t to say that the very rhythmic backbone of these three albums doesn’t align itself firmly in the rock genre, because it does — but that actually may be the least important detail about Scarcity Of Tanks in regards to their accomplishments.  It seems that as “punk rock” can exist without the “rock”, strictly as a philosophical, artistic notion, well, it may just paint a modestly viable picture of just who this project is.  In fact, you could call SOT the essence of punk, being composed of gentlemen now in their 40’s (or nearing it), thus freeing the music from any kind of youthful aspirations and giving it a kind of purity.  Oh, and that purity goes hand-in-hand with one more very important tool:  Improvisation.

This improvisation is what breathes life into the music of Scarcity Of Tanks, and even in the face of this approach that many artists utilize, they do it in their own way.  Even with that in mind, the music here never becomes 15-minute long jam-fests, and they aren’t in any way sloppy, stumbling efforts, nor are they perfect, pristine, molded tracks.  The music is raw and gritty, as it should be, and brazenly vocal-driven which keeps the songs on all three albums at a respectable length and intensity.  Some tracks can come off as slightly psych-oriented, but for the most part these are works of noise rock with an important nod to the subtleties and imperfections that make the music unique.  At least for the tracks on “Sensational Grade”, those are the aspects that seem to be embraced when the tracks are recorded.  Moments between randomly designed guitar melodies and experimental noise can shift without warning, either working into something progressive or something with a new face all together.  Wascovich’s lyrics don’t follow a simple linear path either, though the tone of his vocals don’t seem to fluctuate much, an aspect that may be purposely constructed to make them stand out like a tower amongst ruins.  The one thing that is consistent through this album, with the exception of the final track, is the genuine, unwavering intensity in the music — an emotion that is felt through the vocals despite their brick wall-like sound.  Whether this parallel is meant or not is unknown, but it impresses nonetheless.  Despite these obvious high-points, there is a mystery or two to explore, the biggest of which is the artwork and the album title itself.  The one consistency in this regard is the desolation of all images involved, from the painting by Aleksandra Waliszewska which features a lone man digging or on his hands and knees to the lonely Cleveland city alleys and buildings. It seems that, despite the intensity of the music, at least for this release, there is a bit of emptiness too.  Unfortunately the lyrics aren’t included with the album so it is difficult to compare to the imagery, but it is likely an image born from the struggles of the city of Cleveland which the men behind the music have obviously experienced on a very personal level.

The other two albums featured in this review, “Vulgar Defender” and “Fear is not Conscience” were released in unison this year, for no other reason than the band had that amount of material ready and Wascovich doesn’t care for double-disc sets.  That said, both albums have a similar sound across the board outside of the usual song-by-song variations.  Sections of both albums sound superior to their predecessor in the tightness of the rhythm section, due perhaps in large part to the fact that it’s made up of a new duo in Weasel Walter and Kid Millions.  Overall, both albums are a bit more abrasive and less experimental, geared far more towards feedback and a solid rhythmic presence and noticeably lacking Cintron’s minimal electronic influence.  There’s a point in “Vulgar Defender”, around “Detached Abstract”, where the improvisational influence becomes more blatant and begins to seriously focus on noise, further taking SOT away from the mentioned rock area and more towards the arty background that they represent, and though they aren’t intended or meant by the project, I can hear sparse elements of grind and even doom and drone at work in the mix, though they all appear in a minimal and abstract fashion.  It all combines to create something equally uncomfortable and uncompromising, perfectly embodying a “fuck you” attitude, not through the means of conflict, but just through the music’s very existence.  Everything about Scarcity Of Tanks purposely goes against the grain to make something original.

Because of all of the intensity, the experimentation, noise, and unique approach to composing, the question begs to be asked: “is this music that is forced to be original for the sake of being original?”  From my perspective, the answer is a stern “NO!”  It simply is what it is, love it or hate it.  It is the mirror image of the attitude and, frankly, soul of those behind the music, and at it’s most basic level, it’s also a perfect face for a city like Cleveland.  Edgy, tough, violent, but still artistic in a guerrilla style that is distinctly urban.  I can’t help but feel like the lines that Wascovich births to the world come out in multi-colored sprays of paint, a new, aural, form of graffiti that finally comes out best in the final album, “Fear is not Conscience.”  This is a title which in itself acts as a social sledgehammer that demands people have a mind of their own and which seems to echo the frustrations of Wascovich’s own upbringing in a Catholic school that suffocated his artistic talents (hence track titles like “Cathedral Hush”).

In the end, it’s easy to see that this is a very complex project both musically and mentally — getting into the mind of the man behind the music isn’t easy however, and it takes a patient ear and mind to do so. Even then though, each album has its own face and personality, and much of what is audible is obviously somewhat abstract, making it difficult to find concrete ideas in.  Perhaps, in the end, that’s the point all together — after all, in music that is personified as anarchy, it’s difficult to say anyone is “leading” and what better way to represent that than to make your objectives as blurred as possible.  Outside of this whole complicated ordeal, the most honest way to understand Scarcity Of Tanks is with the simple understanding that art is art.  For some people — for these people — it’s as simple as that.

Track List:

“Sensational Grade”
01) Deaf and Divided
02) Aisling Hospital
03) Canister Fault
04) Pill Hill
05) Pathetic Circuit
06) Treble Lusty
07) King of Nothing
08) Blatant Memorial
09) Jailed his Teeth
10) All Equation
11) Bleach Mold

Rating: 3.5/5
Label: Total Life Society (US) / TLS003CD / CD
Noise Rock

“Vulgar Defender”
01) Darkness Promises
02) My Fist
03) Tread on you
04) Detached Abstract
05) Let you Accident
06) Sterling
07) Proud Criminal
08) Viper Arms
09) Another Chance

Rating: 4/5
Label: Total Life Society (US) / TLS004CD / CD
Noise Rock

“Fear is not Conscience”
01) Stood Straight
02) Never Private Clubs
03) Winter is here
04) Already Alive
05) Slut’s Rut
06) Cathedral Hush
07) Impaired Nominee
08) Exhausted Down
09) Forgiveness
10) Gloomy Reason

Rating: 4/5
Written by: Sage
Label: Total Life Society (US) / TLS005CD / CD
Noise Rock

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