Nicky Smith (son of City Paper co-founder Russ Smith), the founder and core of the Engine duo, is 15. It's worth thinking about. This is a project that started when he was in the seventh grade. Looking back, we don't remember too many noise projects in our middle school. Thank acts such as Wolf Eyes, Black Dice, and Animal Collective for getting this kind of stuff to the front of the record store. Smith does, actually, frequently thank them on Engine's excellent debut of woozy soundscaping, Fringe, at least via a whole lot of sampling--from the aforementioned to the Beach Boys to Sun Ra to Big Black (think about that one).
The samples are all listed in the liner notes, and that's a good thing (unless copyright is a concern)--you're probably not going to immediately pull out bands as esoteric as most of those on Engine's list. A Beatles organ loop is plenty distinctive on "Bubble Bath," running through a track of big marching-band drums, banshee shrieking, and lyrics that go "sitting in the bathroom stall/ feeling real relaxed/ but I know I'm in the best of hands/ when I wanna feel relaxed." If Smith weren't, you know, in early high school, we'd say it's the kinda thing that happens in a basement with a bottle of something foul, a cheap microphone, and a sampler.
While much of Fringe feels like lo-fi audio splatter paint--squirmy synths, chirping electronics, back-of-a-cave vocals, and lots of samples, of course--with a tempo, and struggles to get to that vague more that haunts, like, 90 percent of DIY noise-based music, a couple of these tracks pick up into odd, hallucinatory pop songs. The Elvis-sampling "Mission Accomplished" sounds like the man himself filtered through a carnival, and the similarly sampled twang of "Goodwin Lives On" fades through echoing chuckles into nondescript fog. Playful, yes, but one of the defining features of the record is the acidic, dark guitar work that carves its way through the music like gnarled roots cracking up through the foundation of Pee-wee's Playhouse, a reference that might just be lost on Engine. ()
Engine plays the Lo Fi Social Club July 25 with Kill and Eat, Disheveled Elephant, and Needle Gun, and the Charm City Space July 26 with the Cotton Candy Collective, Rosemary Krust, and Southern Justice.