Subpoena the Past
This Year’s Eclipse
Right before its untimely demise in July of 1997, Colorado’s post-punk visionaries The VSS released a split double-7″ with the Rye Coalition. Contained on the VSS’s half was a quasi-industrial remix of “In Miniature,” a wind-swept pummel into the gravel originally on the group’s sole album, Nervous Circuits . This remix served as a subtle hint and a tasty tease of the cold precision to follow almost three years later on Subpoena the Past’s debut, This Year’s Eclipse .
An odd and unique pairing for sure, Subpoena the Past couples the talents of Sonny Kay, the VSS’s vocalist/lyricist/lighting conductor, and Justin Karam, bassist of power-violence provocateurs the Locust. Both members share bass and keyboard duties, while the former also handles vocals and drum programming.
Setting the tone for the four songs to follow, the aptly titled “Altitude on Ice” opens This Year’s Eclipse with the cold sounds of pounding, mechanized drums and a rapidly-strummed one-note bassline, all before another, more complicated one overlaps it at the same time a humming keyboard part inconspicuously segues into the proceedings. Just as the song manages to coalesce into a trance, it’s over and done with right before the second cut, “Ripe Trial,” kicks in with a staccato tribal beat not unlike early Swans sped up. Amidst the stop/start dynamics, an equally disjunct bassline anchors the song long enough for Kay’s voice, multi-tracked and processed beyond belief, to float in like a fleeting ghost, simply offering the evocative line “I walked the plank on the slave ship — ‘dignity!'”; perpetually antagonizing those individuals expecting more of a climax, the duo, again, ends on an abrupt note. Stiff and stifling, a drum track culled from a lost Wax Trax! record breaks open “A Red Decree,” only to be followed by an army of keyboards buzzing like air raid sirens; as ghostly as Kay’s but less sinister, guest Cassandra Millspaugh’s haunting vocals carry the song to an abrupt close. Minimalist to the n th degree, the 34-second “Last Year’s Ghost” makes like Test Department, nudged to its anti-climax by a lurching bassline and Kay’s pained sneer.
Featuring the Starlite Desperation’s Dante White and Jeff Ehrenberg (guitar and percussion, respectively), the vocal-less “Patience” lurches in a similar manner (echoy dub effects flying like shrapnel in every direction) and closes the record in enigmatically abrupt fashion. Like a logical but lost piece to the puzzle, Chrome’s Helios Creed kept a watchful, glazed eye on the EP’s recording.
Hardly a masterpiece, This Year’s Eclipse nonetheless sets a new precedent for shiveringly cold musical precision. If the duo manages to rope Creed into the foray, however, things could get a lot scarier — wishful thinking, maybe?
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