Fresh off his essential work in the trio GOGGS with Fuzz’s Ty Segall and Charlie Moothart, Chris Shaw and his main band of misfits, Ex-Cult, released a whopper of punk fury and angst in their own right with Negative Growth, the anti-venom for said affliction.
Memphis is and always will be a hotbed of artistic clutter. From Sun Records and Stax to Ardent and the almighty Goner, local labels are aplenty, as are fine folks making joyful noise to incite a riot (or soothe one). The former outcome is clearly the plan for this Memphian quintet on Negative Growth. Calling out all bullshit and taking no prisoners, the group comes armed with a glorious cacophony of perfectly fuzzed and distorted axes, a hellish back section, and Chris Shaw’s decidedly scary vocal delivery (that rests somewhere within the crust of Johnny Rotten’s drunken yet unassumingly more forceful evil twin and the kid who just rail slid on the rear bumper of your new yuppie SUV). It’s admirable that all of this beautiful nonsense comes from five dudes who look like they just left Hooters stuffed with bar food and flat American beers yet are eager to take on some frat boys at any given moment.
Scopes adjusted and amps ablaze, things jump off from album opener “Mister Investigator”, a three-chord gem that’ll challenge your self-control to not flip over your desk or spawn erratic driving at frivolous speeds. Honestly, I haven’t a clue what Chris Shaw is slurring most of the time, but that’s precisely the point. Once you’ve succumbed to the style, the rest won’t matter. Sure, they’ve got something to say—in droves actually—but the nucleus is the realm of chaos evoked through each song, capitulated with guitars, drums, and Shaw’s hellish croons weaving in and out and barking demands. It’s tremendously better heard than merely put into words, as everything sounds like it’s the last thought he will ever have, but he’s still struggling to emit it.
The trance ensues into the first single premiered, “Attention Ritual (No One Sees)”, another rage-worthy dirge and countersinking the point that you’re in for decibels sans rest or recoup. Sitting in the producer chair, where he’s equally prolific at such a tender age, Ty Segall works knobs and arrangements, adding his custom code for that distinct sound he’s been known for in his plethora of bands and solo releases. Once again, the marriage is perfect.
“Dogs Roll In” is another face-basher that showcases a frenzied attack, and it’s followed by my personal favorite track, “Panic in Pig Park”, which tricked me into thinking it was over at least three times before it finally built to an orgasmic penultimate tear down. Truthfully, my only complaint about this entire record is that it’s only nine songs.
Nothing makes me happier than a great, loud, lo-fi punk record, and this is one of them. Any true-to-form purveyor of all things rock should be dosed; if this record doesn’t cross your speakers more than a few times, you ain’t worth your salt. In fact, Chris Shaw even states, “In the year of the snitch, there are forces beyond your control that keep you up at night—ghost notions that swirl around your room while you sleep, your own pillow laughing right in your face while you fight for an hour of rest. There are voices that whisper from the corner, telling you everything you never wanted to hear. Negative Growth, our third album, is dedicated to fear and deception.” Right on, man.
Originally published at PopMatters 2/6/17