Graded on a Curve: Lithics,
Mating Surfaces

The homemade quality of the cover to the Lithics’ second album recalls the heyday of DIY post-punk, and it’s an adequate tip-off to the nature of their sound. Many have done it over the years, and it can seem like just as many are doing it right now; and so, it’s necessary to spotlight the good stuff. Across a dozen tracks, the Portland, OR four-piece make clear they didn’t stumble onto the genre last week, but neither do matters unfold as premeditated. Mostly, Lithics connect as confident and inspired, and the songs place Mating Surfaces securely in the keeper column. It’s out now on LP, CD, cassette and digital through Kill Rock Stars; this month, the band will be playing shows with Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks.

A lot of neo-post-punk, particularly the bands displaying an inclination for the early stuff, gets all (too) caught up in the defining aspects of execution, e.g. the stuttering rhythms, the needling guitars, the structural angularity, the skeletal and/ or the shambolic, the whole non-pro yet non-workmanlike nature of it all.

Lithics, who consist of vocalist-guitarist Aubrey Horner, guitarist Mason Crumley, drummer Wiley Hickson, and bassist Bob Desaulniers, don’t skimp on the formal qualities. In fact, any of the cuts from this, their second full-length and first for Kill Rock Stars (the pairing a comfortable fit) could be slipped onto a mixtape of the original impulse made for the curious novice with nary a snag. But what immediately struck me, an experienced post-punk listener, was how well Mating Surfaces’ “Excuse Generator” engaged with those conventions as the song appealingly flowed amongst the jagged.

This can partly be chalked up to practice, but it’s just as attributable to intent, and it’s the combination of attentiveness, diligence, and taste that pushes this effort to the front of the current post-punk class. Horner’s alienated Euro delivery is wholly appropriate for their chosen style, but it nicely avoids the feigned, and the way she rides atop the disjointedly melodic instrumental attack of “Still Forms” is impressive and indicative of the record’s whole.

Lithics’ post-punk vehicle doesn’t misfire, nor does it run short of fuel, as they wisely undertake a short trip. Ditto the individual songs, with ten of the dozen selections unwinding in under three minutes. “When Will I Die” plays around with short repetitive figures amid a fairly trad-punk rhythmic thrust and is sure to gets audiences moving, but without lingering for too long, and with a rousing finale.

This keeps matters engaging as they don’t fall into a rut of imitation; “Specs” reminds me as much of ’90s Dischord act Slant 6 as any of post-punk’s originators, and that’s nice. “Boyce” is even better, proving they can extend (to five minutes), as the intertwining guitars flail, jab, and sting, the drums thump, the bass adds crucial thickness and Horner maintains her composure in the midst of it all.

It’s a highlight, but then “Glass of Water” shifts into pogo-suitable high gear and wraps up in under 90 seconds as guitar splatters all the fuck over. The tempo slows for “Be Nice Alone,” but the cyclical approach remains as Horner favors a calm chant over exuberant singing. However, in the surprisingly catchy (and maybe too brief) “Flat Rock.” she leans a little nearer to standard punk vocal moves, but without ever losing touch with her thing.

The track is a nice reminder that Stiff Little Fingers opened up Rough Trade’s essential comp Wanna Buy a Bridge?, but again with no copping of moves on Lithics’ part. It’s also worth mentioning that Mating Surfaces is a cut above lyrically, with the words to the wonderfully titled and deftly bouncy “Edible Door” offering no traces of disappointment. “Home” delivers a solid groove (throughout the LP, the rhythm section doesn’t falter), and this time the direct simplicity of the lyrics kinda suggests an English as second language German band from the edges of the Neue Deutsche Welle. To repeat, nice.

Initially, the guitars in “Cheryl,” alternately snaky and riff-fixated, are a bit reminiscent of early Scritti Politti, but by the end, everything has dropped out except those increasingly ringing tones, and the focus shifts to the avant side of ’80s subterranean NYC. Sweet. Closer “Dancing Guy” retains an art-punk attack, presenting a gushing noisy free-for-all in its mid-section, while tossing in everything they’ve done well on the record up to this juncture.

Lithics’ good judgement and the attention to songs over standard regurgitation of atmosphere places Mating Surfaces far above the norm for this sorta thing, the music hanging right at the edge of greatness. Continued diligence could result in a late-post-punk masterpiece.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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