Down With Liberty...Up With Chains!
Certain record labels have a sound that courses like an undercurrent through all of their releases. Others have an image to uphold. K Records has both. Founded in 1982 by Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson and featuring a roster that includes Mirah, Kimya Dawson, and the All Girl Summer Fun Band, K Records has a long-standing reputation for being indie, lo-fi, and proud of it. So it makes perfect sense that staunchly DIY musician Ian Svenonius—an artist with a unique sound also motivated by an agenda—would work time and again with the label.
According to Wikiquote, there are a number of variant phrases attributed to anarchist Emma Goldman about getting down when things get hot. The one that sounds most like the guiding philosophy of Chain and the Gang founder Svenonius is as follows: “If I can't dance, it's not my revolution!” Based out of Corruption Land, USA (also known as Washington D.C.), this has been Svenonius' unrelenting position for a couple of decades. Band after band—from the post-hardcore punishment of Nation of Ulysses to the self-proclaimed “Gospel Yeh-Yeh” of The Make-Up, from the indie sounds of Weird War and now to his latest outing, Chain and the Gang—Svenonius has made it his populist musical mission to take this tired old boring world out at the knees.
That being said, Down With Liberty... Up With Chains! is only somewhat serviceable as a soundtrack for smashing The State. This is an album full of seemingly simple repetitive electro-informed Brit soul-style garage rock dealing with complex subject matter (progress, the financial system, technology) in a gleefully irreverent way. Writing this review at the job that pays my bills, I feel slightly rebellious— dangerous, even—for listening to something so doggedly anti-establishment. Mostly, though, I am just reminded of my continual guilt at working for “The Man” to maintain the status quo. Which is, I gather, the exact sort of response Svenonius would want me to have.
Personal favorites include “Interview With the Chain Gang,” an innovative yet self-aware tune summoning up questions the band is likely to get from the music press, and “Unpronounceable Name,” a herky-jerky ditty that reminds me of those old-school no-wave sensations James Chance & the Contortions. Less entertaining is “What Is A Dollar?” a cheap and all-too familiar shot at capitalism full of tired sentiments that could make Jello Biafra roll his eyes. Still, it's a tidy and short album. Except for “Deathbed Confession,” a loose spoken-word song about those faceless evildoers we're always told the CIA hires to do their dirty work, all the songs are under five minutes; the whole thing clocks in at just under thirty-seven minutes. It won't be for everyone, as not everyone likes being beaten over the head with dogma, but if you dig gettin' down to a decidedly anti-authoritarian beat, this might be right up your alley.