With members sporting stage names like Snaxx, V-Chip, Murder, Tal Vez and Shorty, Easthampton Savings Band sounds more like a loose association of neighborhood thugs than a musical group—the kind of folks who’d sucker you into a game of three-card Monte or shake you down for your lunch money. In reality, anything dark or seamy about them is effectively exorcised through the music, which is alternatively art-noir and punk-twang, with a warped, primitive-modern country edge one might call “transistorbilly.”
ESB’s new release, Kunst Master, is a raw but well-produced offering, credited as being “recorded in the barn and basement by James Chiarelli.” Though everything from guitar tracks to vocals is innately punky and rooted in a low-fi tradition, it’s all crystal clear in the mix, to such a degree that any real fan of music or even noise might ask, “Why doesn’t everybody do this?” In 2013, it seems pointless to limit the fidelity of a recording to indulge sentimental affection for things like tape hiss or some other such purposefully imposed quality inhibitor.
Easthampton Savings Band certainly needs no such hipster tricks to retain its bizarre indie sound. Lead vocalist Jenna Lloyd (Snaxx) has a powerful and crazy warbly voice that can only be described as a combination of Gothic, spastic and operatic. Trilly and shout-y at once, it’s almost the female equivalent of a voice like The Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra’s, with femme fatale style that recalls ’80s punk/goth icons like Siouxsie and the Banshees or The Cramps (whose “TV Set” they cover on Kunst Master). Add in some deep reverb here and there and cello and violin parts by (respectively) Vanessa Zaehring (V-Chip) and Margaret Chiarelli (who also plays bass), odd spoken-word voiceovers and strange echoes and synth effects, and you’ve got the makings of something pretty original, even for the Pioneer Valley. Guitarist Thomas Ferriter (Murder) rides the line between straight rock and more arty, Bauhaus-style single-note melodies (with generous processing), and drummer Jeff Lloyd (Tal Vez) similarly alternates between solid rock beats and rolling rhythmic pastiches that add a 1969-type psychedelic feel.
As an album, Kunst Master probably would have been hailed as a brave departure from the rock norm in 1986 or so, and even today it’s definitely a bold and, at times, passionate piece of work that’s obviously a labor of love. There’s nothing on the record that you could legitimately call “pop”; it’s a refreshingly honest product that isn’t in search of anything like “cross-over appeal” or a “broader market.”
Like that of a lot of niche bands, ESB’s music probably isn’t for everybody, but for those who can tap into the band’s West Coast-style exploration of music as both therapy and elastic art form, the group may well represent that “it” spot that some people are always craving and even demand.•
Easthampton Savings Band plays a CD release show Aug. 23, 9 p.m., The Elevens, 140 Pleasant St., Northampton, (413) 586-9155. Goddard, Strange Men and Worms also perform.