Music review: Mohawk anxiety

By and

Wake Up DeadThe Nervous ReturnAtlantic Records/La Salle

Three and a half out of five stars

Every so often, a band hits the mainstream so hard that the sonic blow knocks teeth out of the record industry’s deeply rooted doldrums, splattering blood over its exec’s Armani clown suits. Today, the blood is on The Nervous Return’s hand and it’s painting the town red with it.

As the latest appendage of Blink 182 beatmaker Travis Barker’s LaSalle Records, one would expect the band’s debut, Wake Up Dead, to balance nothing more than high school melodrama and anatomically irreverent playground entertainment.

However, that type of judgment is pretty high school itself-and Barker is clearly making a point of distancing himself from that whole mess.

Wake Up Dead enlists the strengths of ’70s glam, ’80s post-hardcore and ’90s indie rock. In the process, they amass an army of kevlar ballads that somehow scream David Bowie, Ian McKaye and Conor Oberst all in the same strained shout.

While the band members’ sound spans the far reaches of underground rock and roll, these Sunset Strippers spew out a landscape of Hollywood glamour, glitter and garbage-everything we all know Los Angeles to be. Pitting poisoned pop melody against maniacal poetics, each of 10 toe-tappers tiptoe along a razorblade of sonic schizophrenia.

Lead single “Dramahead” buries this razor deep into a candy apple of sugary hooks and sadistic dissonance.

As the Return’s moppy hair-brained front-man Jason Muller babbles, “Improving everyday and suicidal and everything is alright/and only moments from Hell/I’m glad to just be alive/I want to die…” “Dramahead” declares the discordant union of The Return’s volatile Jekyll and Hyde personality disorder. And, oh what sweet carnage ensues.

Christened by chalkboard scratching discord, title track “Wake Up Dead” quickly recesses into a pop persona that’ll entice even the most elitist of Saddle Creek cadets. This calm lasts just long enough for the band’s brooding alter-ego to regain its composure and as this little hellion’s maliciously angular indie riffing begins to peak through the pop sheen, “Wake Up Dead” buries its searing hooks deep into its victim’s subconscious.

The Nervous Return’s angelic aspects burn bright, but it’s the little devils that make this record shine. Warning: Wake Up Dead might undeservedly steal your soul, but to let your stereo be taken hostage by these kids is, albiet short-lived, one hell of a ride.

Dan Fletcher