Graded on a Curve: Clockcleaner,
Nevermind

You have to hand it to John Sharkey III, guitarist and vocalist of Philadelphia punk/noise rock band Clockcleaner; he’s not afraid to tip one of rock’s most venerable sacred cows. To wit, he savaged Nirvana’s Nevermind before stealing its title, saying, “Fuck that record. It’s piss-poor.” He then went on to blame Kurt Cobain and Company for creating alternative rock, before saying, “So, Nirvana were dogshit, and I thought it was funny to name our record Nevermind. I kind of wanted people to react like, “What balls! Who the fuck are these assholes?”

To noise rock aficionados like yours truly, I can tell you exactly who they are: the long-waited successors, along with the perverts in Pissed Jeans, to defunct but great bands like Cows and Killdozer, without whom life hardly seemed worth living. I don’t mind telling you, the wait was long and grueling. I was reduced to listening to Sonic Youth, that’s how bad things got. Actually, I’m lying. Things could never get that bad.

Anyway, Clockcleaner—which took their name from a particularly hot bag of heroin that offed a lot of users in Philly in the 1980s—includes Sharkey, Karen Horner on six-string bass, and Richie Charles Jr. on drums. They create a reprehensible din, just like a good noise rock band should, and at one show with Negative Approach incited crowd violence by performing a mockingly sludged-up version of Negative Approach’s “Ready to Fight.” The latter band’s drummer was good-natured about the diss, saying, “That was great. I’ve seen Flipper in their heyday but I’ve never seen a band piss off a crowd like that before.”

Nevermind is a landmark of hard-to-make-out vocals, guitar distortion, driving beats, and lots of murk. These people, the people in Clockcleaner, specialize in murk. It’s right there in album opener “Interview With a Black Man,” which can only be compared to a fatal mudslide. Good luck figuring out what Sharkey is saying most of the time; he sounds like he’s talking down a really old and bad telephone connection. Meanwhile the same riff goes on and on, before the band jacks up the tempo and Sharkey breaks things up with some atonal guitar noise. “Missing Dick” is a big sonic blast of ugly, a burly mid-tempo number with Sharkey barking out the lyrics, his vocals going from echo-laden to back. As for the band, they’re heavy as heathens, and seem determined to go at your ears with a battering ram.

But “Missing Dick” sounds like a lightweight number compared to the pummeling and drum-driven “New Slow,” which more than lives up to its name. Sharkey sounds like he’s singing from another dimension, while his guitar hammers away, with more subtlety than you’d think possible. His vocals grow distorted, his guitar feeds back, and those drums just keep coming at you until they drop out and Sharkey plays pure noise, saying, “Don’t stop, don’t stop.” “Deaf Man Talking” is unadulterated thrash, and slows down only long enough for Sharkey to play a pair of vicious solos, sharp as straight razors. As for “In the Shit,” it’s all heavily distorted bass, one rip-roaring juvenile delinquent of a guitar, and lots of drum clamor, all put to the purpose of smearing shit all over Sharkey’s unintelligible (as usual) vocals, which once again sound like they were recorded in the next county. This is Metal done right, that is burnt to a crisp, and the chaotic carnage that takes the song out is my idea of fun.

“Blood Driver” has it all, from some opening drum thumping to a heavy metal riff to more “Hey, I’m way over here!” vocals from Sharkey. As the tune speeds up things get interesting; Sharkey plays a solo from Hell, does some neat bellowing, and then moves over while somebody plays the worst, or best (I can’t tell) saxophone solo ever. The song drags a bit after a while, only to come roaring back with the guitar getting all snaggle-toothed before squealing its way to a slight return, and then segueing into the wonderfully titled “Gentle Swastika,” on which Sharkey’s vocals remind me of Shannon Selberg, my old Cows hero. The song takes a minute or so to kick first into high gear, and then into an even higher gear. Sharkey barks and bellows his way through this one like Alice Cooper’s Dwight Fry, or the Eagles Glenn Frey on fire. In keeping with the Nazi symbolism the song finally explodes into a kind of rock version of Operation Barbarossa, with lots of roaring panzers blowing up farmhouses and shit.

“Nsa” opens with a great throbbing bass and cries of “Oww!”, then kicks into classic punk mode. Sharkey’s vocals almost sound like he recorded them along with his band mates, the chorus of “Nsa, Nsa!” is great, and I’ll be damned if Sharkey’s guitar playing doesn’t channel that of Greg Ginn, and overall this one sounds like a great lost Black Flag track from the days before that lunkhead Henry Rollins came aboard and ruined ‘em. “Early Man” opens with some crazy cymbal work, before establishing an oozing pustule of a pace. Sharkey’s vocals are all echo and menace, and his guitar sounds like some type of industrial tool converted into a torture instrument. This song sounds like it just emerged from the primordial muck, and you can be relatively certain it wouldn’t hesitate to make a meal of you. It’s not pretty but it’s noise, noise, 100 percent Grade A noise, and I love it for that fact.

I’ll always love a caterwaul, and be grateful that there are bands like Clockcleaner and Pissed Jeans around. They make a merry clamor, and satisfy my periodic need for chaos, destruction, a din. As Matt Korvette of Pissed Jeans once said, “Mainly we just wanted to bludgeon the listener with dull, monotonous droning rock music that just sucks the energy out of you, the musical equivalent to watching a toilet flush.” I can’t say it any better than that. I mean, I disagree with the “dull” part, but Nevermind, Nevermind.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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