400 Blows has never met a niche it didn’t dodge. When the noise-rock group crept out of Los Angeles in the late ’90s, its drooling, brain-damaged chaos seemed more obsessed with tearing itself to shreds than bothering with anything else, genres included. And the band seemed to have met its self-destructive quota in 2005, when its last full-length, Angel’s Trumpets And Devil’s Trombones, was released. Six years later—during which time the band’s followers like Pissed Jeans and Big Business have risen to eclipse it—400 Blows has unleashed a new album, Sickness And Health. It’s neither as deliciously raw nor nauseatingly jarring as Angel’s Trumpets. But as comebacks go, it’s solid.
As with previous 400 Blows releases, Sickness is rooted in Scott Martin’s contorted riffage. It’s no wonder the guitarist was recently tapped to beef up Big Business; throughout Sickness, Martin overcomes 400 Blows’ lack of bass guitar with a sculpted tangle of distorted sludge and metallic brutality. But frontman Skot Alexander’s snot-choked surrealism squarely resides on the punk side of the aisle, although that alchemy doesn’t fizz and boil over quite the way it used to. Still, the tortured tempos and textured static of tracks like “When The Time Passes Slowly” and “We Killed Like Champions” keep Sickness from being a sprint to the post-AmRep finish line. 400 Blows may still be a misfit among misfits, but Sickness And Health offers proof that the group is long overdue—and perhaps finally ready—for a posse.