Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Test Icicles -- For Screening Purposes Only
Domino; 2005

How do you feel about your eardrums? Would you prefer them battered and raw from breakdowns and shrieks, or lovingly kissed by melodic butterflies? How do you feel about referential transparency? Would you rather bands pay obvious homage to their influences, or are you a fan of subtle acknowledgment?

"Well hey! What's the deal with all these unnerving questions?"

Hold tight, Cochise. When dealing with a band like Test Icicles, one has to be careful. Packaged as the latest and greatest spew from the U.K., it's easy to let down your guard and buy into the baffling hype gushing from fad-loving music blogs.Test Icicles is a difficult band to listen to. Each of its three members have their feet deeply entrenched in different genres, making for a jagged cut-and-paste compilation of everything they can get their hands on. These young dudes are proud of this, too; it's evident in their arrogant delivery and spelled out on Domino's (the band’s label) Web site.

Their sound starts as Blood Brothers worship -- discordant and screamy with noses upturned. Dual guitar lines crash against each other like pissed-off swarms of bees. Despondent yelps, howls, squeals and other forms of vocal shreddage launch apocalyptic lyrics at a discomforting regularity. It seems like a fairly standard take on nu-screamo until the second track of For Screening Purposes Only.

All of a sudden, there's a silly melody akin to The Unicorns or Single Frame. Later tracks channel the hateful aesthetics of The Locust, the bratty-yet-morose nihilism of Public Image Limited, the dance steps of The Faint and Liars, the noise fascination of Sonic Youth, the horror love of The Misfits, industrial bombast from Big Black and the art school desires of Talking Heads. It may be a wicked mess, but the album does manage to cram all of the trio's touchstones into their tunes.

And yet, it's not enough to musically namedrop whatever occupies the band's record collection. The members of Test Icicles act more like mother birds than musicians, hurling up whatever they've ingested into our ears without ever absorbing a drop. There are no lessons learned with very little to add, just imitation.

There are two factors that will keep Screening Purposes from being released straight into the discount bin. One, Test Icicles chose a decent set of bands from which to cull its ideas. If nothing else, it might get kids to pick up something like P.I.L.'s Metal Box instead of whatever unfortunately-named band Pitchfork had decided to endorse that week. More importantly, Test Icicles manages to create a few great moments instead of fully satisfying songs. "Pull the Lever" and "Boa vs. Python" both have endearing choruses for audiences to shout along with. Moments like the ripping guitar line here ("Circle Square Triangle," "Dancing on Pegs") and fine vocal part there ("Maintain the Focus") keep listeners wondering what they're holding back.

Unless you're looking for a beating, it's hard to walk away from For Screening Purposes Only without feeling ripped off. Test Icicles offers a few scraps of shiny creativity crusted over with "fuck the Man" attitude almost as a taunt -- a jab at those who don't want to sift through their garbage. Until these young turks get over their already-bloated egos and put out something at least less derivative, theirs is not a trashcan worth digging in.

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