It’s satisfying when an album plays out exactly like the band that created it plays live; it sucks when it takes nearly a year to figure that out. Bicentennial Rub, the Milwaukee quartet that holds Black Flag, Flipper, Dead Kennedys (minus the hand-about-the-throat vocal stylings), and MC5 by the nuts, doesn’t fancy it up on its Shane Hochstetler-produced, self-titled, five-song EP it recorded over a year ago, nor should it. The most “fancy” Bicentennial Rub gets is adding plenty of distortion to brash guitars, and busting it all up with loads of attitude from vocalist Michael Carriere, who bleeds his throat raw between his “fuck-if-I-care” drawls.
A bit of old-school Milwaukee rock and punk from Peder Hedman (Liquid Pink, Tweaker) flavors the EP with its straightforwardness, but there’s also a Minutemen and Kennedys playfulness present. This bratty attitude and a sonically strong rock drive is a winning combination, and much like the recently departed Milwaukee band Death Dream, Bicentennial Rub takes on a unique-to-Milwaukee sound standby and re-owns it. Carriere sings about the serious quite acerbically, but it’s obvious that Bicentennial Rub runs with that seriousness only when it feels like it. On “TWHS” (“That’s What He Said”), Carriere yowls, “I can tell when this went wrong / when that inside joke became a song / and the only one to get it will never fucking hear it / because she’s gone,” in response to the popular punch line.
Lead track “This Is Where It Always Starts” has shouted, boyish backing vocals, but although they’re plenty anthemic, they’re more punchy than pleading. Libidos and children (“Single Entendre”), paranoia (“88 Dirt”), and the continual drag of suburban life permeate this sub-17-minute release and give off a chokingly noxious (but substantial) breath of air. Live, the frenzied energy of Bicentennial Rub is easy to accept at face value, but the band’s EP still manages to tell it like it is with a similar intensity that pounds itself into the ground, very much a glutton for punishment. And much in the way Death Dream laid it out, the paranoia and starkness presented is grounding and manageable, with plenty of swagger and lead-taking. Fight or flight, but done smartly.