Wax Cannon is two guys–David Murray and Jay Miller–who have been playing together for several years. They put out the titanic Someone in Madison is Praying for You (And it’s not me) four years ago, a double CD that was a tour de force of rock ‘n’ roll songwriting, their answer to Daydream Nation or Zen Arcade.
The Ankle Hour is, in a lot of ways, more of the same–they haven’t bought a drum machine, or found Jesus, or gone to rehab. But that’s a good thing. They play guitar and drums and they sing. Generally, the guy who writes the song sings it and plays guitar. Jay’s songs are generally more melodic and his singing is straightforward and tuneful. Dave sings in a strangled, yelping punk rock mode, true to his ‘80s hard core roots. They both like to construct their songs around heavy guitar riffing and their drumming involves a lot of wailing on the crash cymbal and pounding the snare like it’s done something wrong. This is the sort of music that would have fit in perfectly on the SST or Amphetamine Reptile labels 20 years ago.
Their songwriting distinguishes them from the other bazillion bands who kind of sound like them. Jay’s “Empty Face” has a great melody that modulates unexpectedly into the chorus, and the wearily sung vocal looking at my empty face/feel no shame/looking at my empty eyes/walk way is clever and inevitable in the way Ray Davies’ songs for the Kinks were. Dave’s “Take Aim” uses a marching beat to support a similarly deft melody, and Dave’s rough delivery suits the sarcastic lyric.
In the manner of ‘80s indie rock, Wax Cannon tends to bury the vocals, which makes the lyrics hard to follow. It works musically, but the little bits I can make out make me wish I could hear them better. But that’s more than made up for by the fat layers of slashing guitar that anchor their style. Ankle isn’t a lot different than their last few CDs except in the ways that really matter–the songs. In that department this might be their best work yet.