Review: Stuck – “Change Is Bad”

Holy mother of fuck, how did this one slip below the radar? Born Yesterday Records released the Chicago quartet Stuck’s debut LP, Change Is Bad, mid-pandemic in April and I am left wondering how this atypical and teetering 11-song blessing of angular post-punk didn’t make it itself known on a seismic scale. This thing is that bizarre and that bizarrely good.

For the uninitiated, Stuck custom-cuts the kind of herky-jerky post-new wave anthems that made Brainiac so damned delectable in the 1990s. But, while John Schmersal’s smudged, borderline atonal guitar formulations from the Bonsai Superstar era do punctuate (and sometimes drive) Stuck’s first full-length outing, there the comparisons end. (Frontman Greg Obis, who is often at his best with a blunt yet matter-of-fact sing-speak, is closer to Nick Cave than Timmy Taylor.) For lack of blender neologisms, Stuck is like Melkbelly, strutting as Talking Heads, covering Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. If those points of reference don’t pique your interest, I don’t know what the hell will. The closest indie-rock compatriot I can pull from the gutters of the mind is Pittsburgh’s brilliant Radon Chong. Though that band flirts with more unconventional structures, they both share a vivid flair for the dissonant and the disconnected.

The songs on Change Is Bad, yes, yes, yes, are wonderfully ugly things. On the pithy “Plank II,” Obis blurts out “These people don’t deserve your respect,” guitarist Donny Walsh lets rip a brief but clearly Denison-ian expression and the whole thing descends into madness. (The closing puts the punk back into post-punk.) On the menacing title track – which somehow, for fuck’s sake, only registers at 1:15 in length – there are gnawing guitar figures that claw at the ears. Those figures come back on the excellent album closer, “Bells,” whose driving bass at first calls to mind Shellac’s “Copper” (an impeccable closer in its own right) but which lurches in all sorts of sonic directions you’d never anticipate.

Stuck seems aware of its wonderful ugliness. On “Bug Song” — yeah, Kafka, natch – Walsh juxtaposes a bit of dream-pop guitar fluttering with occasional dissonant notes that keep you on your toes. On “Invisible Wall,” one of the record’s best tracks, the rhythm section of bassist David Algrim and drummer Tim Green keep it tight but almost skeletal, leaving plenty of room for Walsh’s waves of dissonance and a driving, guitar-backed refrain that will be stuck in your head for weeks. “Era” was a mean song when it surfaced on Stuck’s Three Songs EP in 2018; here, re-recorded, it cuts deeper and singes the skin with its acidic refrains. “Wrong Question” is wiry in the vein of barbed wire.

This is the part of the review where we typically analyze a record’s lesser points but it’s hard to spot them at all on Change Is Bad. Even the relatively low-boil “Anniversary,” whose verses hint at a peculiar and unexpected melancholia, offers enrapturing bridges and choruses with dueling guitars and an impassioned vocal delivery from Obis. “Dimed,” where perky bass and reverby guitar hint at the dexterity of surf-rock, again flashes its Schmersal allegiances on descents where things get detuned and surreal. (The chorus is a classic 4/4 barnburner.)

Well, what are you waiting for? The thing’s available via Bandcamp as a digital download and on vinyl. Go, already.

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