Talkhouse Contributing Writer Mish Way is the frontwoman of the band White Lung. Her freelance work can be found in The Guardian, Dazed & Confused, Salon and VICE, amongst others. She prefers writing about sex over music. You can follow her on Twitter here.
I remember Cerebral Ballzy. I remember when our bands used to flirt via the MySpace comment box. I remember hearing an interview with the Brooklyn-based hardcore group on Street Carnage Radio and Gavin McInnes made a joke comparing barbiturates to Star Trek characters. They talked a lot about emergency rooms. I remember sitting in the tour van on the way to Florida when our tour manager started going on and on about some “awful band” he saw last night in New York City: Cerebral Ballzy. The point is I have always been aware of Cerebral Ballzy, but until recently I’ve never listened to an entire album. On the airplane ride leaving Los Angeles, I put on their second album Jaded & Faded and fell asleep by the fourth track.
I didn’t fall asleep because Jaded & Faded was boring. I feel asleep because I was on an airplane, it was 8 a.m. and I would have fallen asleep even if I’d been listening to Napalm Death. Jaded & Faded does not sound like Napalm Death. Cerebral Ballzy does not sound like Bad Brains either (a lazy comparison most journalists assign to the band, I’m guessing because half the band happens to be black and they play hardcore music — which is about as accurate as comparing my band to Bikini Kill, but I digress). Jaded & Faded sounds like the Dishrags if the Dishrags were young male skateboarders from Brooklyn instead of punk chicks from the west coast of Canada circa 1979. Do you remember the Dishrags? Probably not. The Dishrags were (to my knowledge) the first all-female Canadian hardcore band. They wrote songs about men, how much love sucked, the city they lived in and partying. Their music was infectious and jarring. They were influenced by the same late-’70s punk style that influences Cerebral Ballzy: chug-chug guitars, bouncing deadpan vocals full of disgust and sarcasm, relentless drums and a bassline that doesn’t wuss out, ever. Screech. Start. Stop. Pound. Pound. Don’t. Stop.
It’s pop, coated in rough overdrive and fuzz. Besides the mirrored lyrical content, Cerebral Ballzy’s singer Honor Titus and the Dishrags’ Jade Blade share a similar vocal style. They have the same inflections and timing. When I listened to Jaded & Faded (for the fifth time), I wished Honor could go back in time 40 years and sing “Love Is Shit” with the Dishrags. He’d nail it.
From what I’ve read, Jaded & Faded has been criticized for being “over-produced” (except in England; England loves Cerebral Ballzy and the band can do no wrong there). I think that probably has to do with the fact that Jaded & Faded allegedly took two years to complete. Now, boys, you cannot sit on an album that long. You will just overthink it. (It’s like when you’re giving yourself a haircut and you just meant to trim your bangs and somehow you end up with a fucking Chelsea.) Everyone knows you are supposed to write a punk record in eight weeks and record it in two weeks. Those are the rules. But fuck the rules, right? Isn’t that what Papa G.G. told us it was all about?
Look, at first I didn’t know what to think about this album. It passed through me quickly like Taco Bell to diarrhea. Then, after I listened to it a few more times it started to become something. I think that when “punk” or “hardcore” albums are produced with technology slightly better than a paper bag, we don’t always know how to listen. Why? Because all the good shit was recorded when technology was on par with a paper bag (or so we’re told), but that’s not how things are now and I don’t see anything wrong with actually producing a fucking album. Jaded & Faded is cloaked in a bunch of studio effects, but it makes sense. Bottom line, it’s their decision. I’m not telling these kids how to make an album. (If I were, they wouldn’t use that guitar tone.)
Jaded & Faded grows on you. Titus’ melodies come to life after a few listens and on tracks like “Lonely As America,” “Off with Your Head” and “Be Your Toy” (which even has contrapuntal vocals backing him up on the chorus) he almost goes full-ballad on us. “Better in Leather” is as creepy as it is catchy, and on “Speed Wobbles,” Honor doesn’t sound like Jade Blade, more like Walker Behl from New York’s best hardcore band, Crazy Spirit. Most of the album you can easily envision live, because it follows “the punk formula,” and from what my friends tell me, Cerebral Ballzy shows are demented and fucked up and messy and all the good things those skate rats want to see. But just to keep us on our toes, Jaded & Faded closes with “All I Ever Wanted,” which actually introduces a tempo change before splitting. It’s the right exit.