Artist: Scaterd Few
Label: Jackson-Rubio Recordings
Time: 16 tracks/62:30
Grandmother's Spaceship is the latest storybook of hope and anguish offered by Scaterd Few. It completes the band's gradual metamorphosis from the spraypaint-and-dirt street punk of Sin Disease to the slick-and-loud excesses of Jawboneofanass to the polished but uncompromised punk of today.
Spaceship allows the band to expand their sound with new tricks and production...but a vocoder? And keyboards? Of course. Scaterd Few has always fooled us into not noticing that their broken-sidewalk punk sound is constantly being washed clean in lush layers and perfect sound effects.
The album begins with pure noise, which Allan Aguirre and company soon handcuff into well-planned flows of sound which, like whitewater, offer moments of safe beauty before the suckerpunch of power. Scaterd Few plays the soft-soft-LOUD game with the best of them, but unlike today's generic "alternative" they actually create beauty in the soft rather than simply plodding along until the chorus. The tenderness of the bass and Bowie-esque vocals that introduce "Suspension My Love" offer no hint of the militant punk stabs that end the same song. The Few know how to hit jackhammer mosh-pit whirlwinds with the best of the punk bands; unlike the others, though, their songs are real compositions rather than assembled musical cliches.
"Arbitrator" departs from punk's old school toward a more surreal sound; Allan's perfectly imperfect voice moans an anguished dissonance against the thundering deep ocean/vast sea bass that could show Marilyn Manson how people with talent do it. A hymn from the modern human, confronting the primitive alienness of his humanity in comparison to the spiritual majesty of his Creator, struggles for the poetry to praise the maker of the stars, the caretaker of galaxies, the one whose power lifts what it could as easily destroy. "Will you turn and destroy me?" The question is answered in triumphant challenge in "Incorruptible": "Death! Where is your sting?!"
Songwriter Allan Aguirre's goth habits emerge as well-polished on Grandmother's Spaceship as on his Spyglass Blue efforts: "Vanishing" opens with a trembling, delicate eastern melody before the ignition of a string-scraping slamdance anthem. The storm finds its calm eye with an abstract reggae interlude (resembling a lost Bauhaus B-side more than anything done by any other Christian band), while the storm finds its breath most powerfully in the urgent attack of "Bobby's song," a tone poem of punk aggression which tells the story of humankind's misplaced yearning for extraordinary salvation from all sources other than the Universal King.
Scaterd Few's spiritual themes are more developed here than on any previous offering. No more is Allan content to embed his faith solely in the vernacular of punk music while the rest of the world puzzles over his philosophies: "And as the time has shown they've questioned my believing from the start..." His honesty, like his voice, bleeds through Christianity's pastel-and-pretty-poems like blood through gauze. "Take your cross and let us be"—the lyrics could as easily be attributed to the church of McChristianity, who wishes punks, Christian or not, were gone from this world. And Allan knows it: "alienation in an alien nation; I feel so far from home..."
Criticisms, and they are few, pertain more to the material album than the musical compositions. Scaterd Few are always at their best when they preserve the DIY tape-and-staples imagery they gave us on Sin Disease (always the landmark). This is a band that offers us the honest splinters left after the slick cross has been auctioned by cathedrals; the gall of a band to present a hand-typed cut-and-paste dreadlocked album in 1989 shocked the Christian world who wanted flowers and pretty bows. Grandmother's Spaceship refuses that saccharine, but the cover imagery is too polished, too professionally laid-out with computer perfection--the alien icons (alternative rock's newest fad) and a plain green wrapper camouflage the unique music in a bland package, one which commits my personal unpardonable sin of omitting track numbers beside song titles.
Grandmother's Spaceship offers enough grit to salt the loose seams of Christian music's neat-and-pretty image, but offers the salve as well. It is refreshing to see a brand of punk which draws its energy from its solution-oriented activism, rather than from the fake anger of endless complaint. While it would have been nice to bundle the product in a more interesting wrapper (cage?), the music inside punctures the package like a hawk. It is punk that completes the circle of first offering the threat, then the solution for peace.
By Matthew Atkinson