After being disappointed by The Advocate’s choices for emerging gay artists, I decided to flip through some old issues of Out to see if I could find something more interesting. Even though music coverage in Out is even less pronounced than the Adovcate, the editorial judgment aligns far better with my own taste.
And so it was I ran across a one-paragraph review of the Dead Betties’ Nightmare Sequence. I sought the band’s music out, and it spoke to me immediately. Finally — a mostly gay punk band that sounds closer to NUMBER GIRL than the Dead Milkmen.
These guys sound like they can kick the living shit out of you.
The Dead Betties have drawn comparisons to the punk elite — Sonic Youth, the Dead Kennedys, My Bloody Valentine, and the band has a surprisingly big sound for a trio. On the opening title track, drummer Derek Pippin sounds like he’s got more than two arms, while guitarist Eric Sheppard holds back till the bridge to unleash a torrent of noise. Right on cue, singer/bassist Joshua Starr lets out a wail. It pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the album.
"Malls of the Midwest", "George’s Mr. Right" and "Terror Teacher" find the band snarling, pounding and crashing their way their way through compact sprints of melody and noise. "Hellevator" and "Destination I Do" get close to being tuneful, with a bizarre guitar accompaniment underscoring the chorus of the latter.
When the Betties pull back, they don’t ease up on the tension. The 7-minute "Chicago" is sparse and relatively glacial next to other tracks, but it’s no less tortured. "Tell Me, Tell Me" starts off almost psychedelic but drastically snaps out of its reverie at the midpoint.
The center piece of the album is "Demoralizer", a track that’s only a few jump cuts short of Naked City-style ADD.
As charged as Nightmare Sequence can get, it doesn’t lose focus. These songs go all over the place, but they never meander nor spin out of control. The album grabs hold from the start and would rather rip off a limb than let go.
If Nightmare Sequence has one fault, it’s distribution. The album is available only through online vendors with digital rights management, and there’s no physical CD to go with it. Cordless Records, the online-only label from Warner Music Group that released the album in July 2007, is sticking with a 2003 business model. How innovative.
Don’t let that be a deal-breaker, though — this album is really worth the DRM, and the Dead Betties deserve your patronage. Nightmare Sequence packs one hell of a sonic wallop.