Declaration of Independents
Significant members of then-recently-seeded factions of underground music—industrial and punk—came together for side projects in the mid-1980s that even then felt like blips on the radar. History, however, has been kind to the sound and reputation of Ministry offshoots Pailhead (with Minor Threat/Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye) and Lard (with Jello Biafra). Twenty years later, longtime Ministry member Paul Barker found himself wanting to play with hazardous materials again. This time, though, his catalyst is The Jesus Lizard’s grungy guitar god Duane Denison and the resulting band is U.S.S.A., with their debut album The Spoils.
While classic Ministry and The Jesus Lizard do weave through U.S.S.A.’s music, they actually take a back seat to other influences steeped in fractured fairy tales of the ’70s-through-’80s and ’90s-through-’00s. The layers of Denison’s guitar and Barker’s bass, often so drenched in echo and programming as to feel hollowed out, form the foundation of material like “Only Sugarwater” that mimics Killing Joke. Propped up by longtime drum tech and teacher Johnny Rabb and heretofore unknown vocalist Gary Call, songs like “Wasteland” and “Dead Voices” deliver off-kilter bluesy aggression once reserved for Queens of the Stone Age.
Bringing together old- and new-school musicians always seems to incur a risk of inconsistency. The Spoils does fall victim to this, with much of the responsibility resting on the earnest yet green Call. “Cab Ride” and “Peculiar Thing” recall directionless Deftones growl-and-scream-fests, while Call’s flimsy vocals on “Cruel Beauty” fail to raise the rock above an Incubus-like, falsely sinister feel. But then we stumble upon the beats and purposeful wails of songs like “Blue Light,” Call and Rabb successfully negotiating their way atop and around the angry strings and fretwork of Barker and Denison. Warts and all, U.S.S.A. seem committed to form of themselves a more perfect union—it may not be easy, but it sounds like it won’t be boring.