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Bereft of Center 

by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & o hear Gus Niklos talk about it, he and guitarist Ondrej Ferc & aacute;k have a relationship built on immolation. "Me and Ondrej have been taking a musical and philosophical journey together since high school," he says. It's a unique friendship in his mind. Where most peers tiptoe around issues -- political, spiritual, sociological -- that might cause friction or else cause one person to defer to the other, the two have made a point to have it out on the battlefield of ideas. "Our relationship is based on holding [our] beliefs to a fire and seeing what is left once it stops burning," Niklos says. It's the kind of bond he'd like to see more of. "If you can't be critical of your belief systems, then they aren't very strong."

That's a formative sentiment Niklos and Ferc & aacute;k have built a band around, packaging politics media criticism in an easily digestible arena rock/punk/hardcore format. Musically, The Mediam isn't a difficult band. Plowing through well-turned earth, the group makes rock free of irony or stylistic pretense. There are nods to Sparta in the song structure, Fugazi's Ian MacKaye in Niklos' cadence and The Mars Volta and AFI in his operatic flourishes. But the band pulls sparingly from its influences, creating less a collection of obvious sonic debts than an impressionistic layer upon straight-ahead rock.

Simple, though, doesn't mean artistically vacant. The band's indelicate press release calls the album "a post-cookie-cutter-rock collection," and, while crude, it's pretty apt. As post-punk is an elaboration upon punk tropes, calling yourself post-cookie-cutter admits to a certain predictablility put to unpredictable ends. It means, to some extent, the same old rock poses, friendliness, and ease of digestion rewrapped to say something new. And indeed, that's the case. In the middle of the song of the same name -- an uncomplicated hard driving affair -- the sturm und drang quiets long enough for Niklos to assert "God is a Communist." Niklos says such statements are a call to dialogue, not partisanship. He doesn't care if there are more leftist so long as there's less apathy.

What The Mediam does, then, is weave an idealistic mandate through the radio-friendliness and wield it like a bludgeon against the glazed eyes and closed ears of the Clear Channel set. "Kids here can't get upset about thousands dying. They're more concerned with why they can't get the new Usher song on their Sidekick," says Niklos. He believes it doesn't have to be this way, "People in France riot when the cheese tariff goes up five cents."

Niklos isn't advocating violence, though, just talk. "I want the songs to be a conversation starter," he says, "whether that's between some dude or your friend in a bar or a girl you're hitting on." It'd be a neat trick, if The Mediam can pull it off, to walk into a rock bar in five years and see some kid with sleeves sidle up next to someone, saying "Hey gorgeous, has anyone ever told you that you have an untenable dependence on foreign oil?"

Music is transformative, though, especially music this devoid of pretense, so don't rule it out.

The Mediam with Elijah Mink at the BLVD on Friday, June 22 at 9 pm. $5. Call 455-7826.
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