Steven K. Smith’s guitar is a drill. An industrial-grade, flaming drill that grinds its way into you with unforgiving force the moment Smith lets it fly. And on his new release as A Signal in the Static, Transmissions from Yesterday, that moment comes about 90 seconds into the first track, “Message from Arecibo,” and rarely relents over the next 38 minutes. Smith’s signature is a raw, aggressive cliff-face of sound that smacks of alt rock that’s decided to go on a joyful killing spree. The dense thrash of chords, the mad yowl of feedback, the unabashed fuck you simplicity of three-chord punk turned into its own somewhat more sophisticated descendant, serrated around the edges like it’s being played too loudly on an amp that can barely handle the load—it’s goddamned magnificent. Transmissions puts its post-rock credentials clearly on display. (In fact, much of the stuff here drags up aural memories of listening to Wire.) Crunched together though the sound is, each track packs its own distinct melody, and many of them ring with rock-echo familiarity. You hear it in the deliberate up-the-neck progression and growing intensity of “Sirus B” and the rain-of-fire flail of “Lost Transmission,” driven by pound-for-all-you’re-worth drums. But I should point out that it’s not all snarl and yell. Smith dials it down a bit later in the disc. The rhythm on “They Can Hear Us From the Stars” is metered out on clacking sticks while a snaky bass line curls under a burble of noise. It’s about as calm as Transmissions… gets. Smith clearly loves playing with depth of sound, just piling it on to see what emerges through the haze, and there’s a joy in listening to someone just hammer away at the strings like they’ve just discovered what makes rock rock. This is a turn-it-up disc, a half hour of pure sonic catharsis. Come on. Come to the drill. Open your ears and let it purify your soul.
Available at A Signal in the Static’s web site.