For today’s segment, I want to take you deep within the catacombs of North Philadelphia. Imagine walking into a cigarette-smoke suffocated townhouse crowded with strange and smiling individuals in their natural habitat. After a warm welcome, we hear the rumblings of a bass and of drums coming from underneath of us. Intrigued, we make our way to the beautifully dingy basement that gradually fills and fills as more people realize a band’s about to play.
And that band is probably Line Leader: A Philly-based “surf tinged garage rock” trio whose show-stopping performances are taking the underbelly of their city by storm. Line Leader is the culmination of Sean Clark’s brash guitar lines and imaginative vocals, and a moving list of current and past musicians’ driving drums and in-your-face-bass. The existing line-up consists of Clark, Branden Bauer on bass and Austin Burkey on drums.
The first selection on their Bandcamp page is a 6-song EP, apply titled Live in July Cassette, all recorded and mixed on a 4-track. The EP opens with “east coast beach ghost,” at a high-velocity and maximum intensity, which juxtaposes the minimalist recording style. Clark’s vocals are gritty and distorted, obscuring the lyrics, but emphasizing the melody and the route it takes in comparison to the instruments. What begins as an easy-listening surf-jam then quickly goes through a metamorphosis phase, and with a few guitar chords, the entire vibe of the song is ramped up. The beach is still there, but the ghost is starting to haunt it, as illustrated by Clark’s ominous Oooohhhss around the 1:40 mark.
The fourth track on the EP is “headcold brainfreeze.” This song is a basement-shaker. The low-end fuzzy guitar and distorted bass are what drive the intensity to new levels, especially as the drums move to the crash cymbal, filling up any open space available. When experienced in concert, this is impossible to stand still to. The weak become strong, the passive become aggressive, and the civil become anarchic.
What I love about Line Leader’s performance is that they possess the ability to produce chaos while in complete control. The bands that lose me are the ones that succumb to the insanity of their own creation, but when Line Leader are the ones making it, their tempo does not fluctuate, the notes aren’t lost, and the intricacies of their songs remain dynamic.
Moving away from the cassette player, an incredible selection of Line Leader songs comes in the second half of a split demo with the ambient project Somniac. These three songs present an entirely different side of the group and of Clark’s songwriting. The fuzzy fog is down, providing a clear window into the creativity and melodic discourse of selections like “labyrinth.” In comparison to the relatively brash and simplistic chord progressions of Live In July Cassette, “labyrinth” is a beautiful composition of perfectly executed and unexpected guitar chords underneath a gloomily complex melody.
The diversity of Line Leader songs is most certainly the product of the diversity of influences. The Live In July Cassette inspiration can be found in hard rockers like Ty Segall and surf rockers like Guantanamo Baywatch. The melodic and more sensitive side of Line Leader can be found in likewise artists such as Gorillaz, and my home-boy Alex G(-sus).
The best part about these guys is that after they finish playing their set and they leave the stage (probably a corner of the basement), they will also assume the role of strange and smiling individuals, perfectly content in their natural habitat.
JASON MCCUE | B. Bauer 4 Prez | KXSU Reporter