by Miranda Hale

Weird War is indeed very weird. On If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em (Drag City), former Make-Up frontman Ian Svenonius shouts, moans, and cries his way through 41 minutes of surrealistic yet strangely touching subversive rock. Along with fellow Make-Up alum Michelle Mae and Royal Trux's Neil Hagerty, Svenonius formed Weird War after the members' main projects were disbanded. Their original moniker, Scene Creamers, was only intended to be a one-shot group. After recording the band's debut, Hagerty left and Svenonius and Mae were joined by guitarist Alex Minoff, formerly of Six Finger Satellite.

The intro, "Music for Masturbation," sets the tone for the album, combining moody dance beats and muffled moans of lust over a spoken manifesto on sexuality and identity. This combination of the completely frivolous and the bizarrely serious, all mixed together over heavy guitar riffs and danceable beats, is intoxicating. On "Grand Fraud," the fuzzy guitars and shivery vocals are intense and pleasantly disturbing. The album's title track starts with dogs barking and moves into a funk that would not have sounded out of place in 1974. But this is new millennium funk: weirder, and with lyrical imagery and production values completely appropriate in this postmodern age.

"Store-Bought Pot" is like a time machine trip with images of slightly sinister '70s action heroes -- Bullitt or Shaft with their leather jackets and badass attitudes. Svenonius' raspy rapping and falsetto screaming seems a little too self-consciously retro after a while, but it's always fun. On "AK-47," Svenonius turns crabby about the state of society, and the song's dance rhythms nearly hide its message of caution in the face of mindless violence. The album's spoken-word closer, "One by One," overlays Chairman Mao quotes on top of a mournful, barely contained guitar wail. In the hands of other bands, this would be a ridiculous song; here, it's almost embarrassingly beautiful.

Yes, this is mostly style over substance, but so what? It's fun, bizarre, indefinable, and has plenty of soul and intelligence buried under all those guitars and dance beats. Bite 'Em is a call for revolution through dancing, moaning, and spouting off on society's ills. Weird War wants you to take off that chastity belt and f**k some shit up. What are you waiting for?

Publication date: 04/22/04

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