Sex Jam

Milemarker making sex music militant

So you can't get laid. Maybe you need a better haircut. Maybe you need to shower more frequently. Maybe you need to kill that perpetual stale-gin breath with a few blasts of Listerine or some after-dinner mints or something, for God's sake, because people are really starting to talk. Or maybe you just need to smash capitalism. Because according to Chicago hardcore band Milemarker, it's not so much finding a good man that's the problem; it's dealing with the Man himself. Says bassist Al Burian, "We're pushing to make sex music militant."

They chose the title of the album they're currently touring very carefully: Frigid Forms Sell(released on Valentine's Day 2000 but just reissued on Jade Tree), an extended riff on an American sexual psychology deformed by everything from plastic porno fuckfests to an entertainment industry determined to imprint you with a mass-marketed idea of what sex is supposed to be—and then charge you up the ass for the privilege. Besides injecting new meaning into punk's "Fuck the system!" ethos, Frigid's pervasive chill—from icy lyrical metaphors (like the haunting refrain on "Tundra": "When you're frozen, you can still be smiling") to frosty Krautrock synthesizer flutters atop the requisite post-punk guitar bristling—is a compelling reflection of a sexual alienation Burian says is endemic in American society. Exhibit A? Frigid's "sex jams."

"The traditional sex jam is probably in an R&B format—that's what we're referencing, anyway, although our sex jams aren't quite coming at it from the same angle as Missy Elliot," says Burian. "Although I don't know—she does have some dissatisfaction she expresses about sexual politics."

"Sex Jam One: Sexual Machinery" and "Sex Jam Two: Insect Incest" started out as "assignments" (it shouldn't surprise you that Milemarker is the kind of band in which members give one another songwriting assignments) to deconstruct the idea of the corporate love song, Burian says. And as befits a band that spent its five-year career doing things like playing behind big TV screens flashing the word "ENTERTAINMENT," they came up with lovey lyrics like, "The way the mammals do it is inefficient and unsanitary." It's not Barry White, but someone's gotta be the voice of dissent when sex gets dragged from the bedroom to the boardroom.

"It's the whole idea of the sex jam on the radio," Burian says. "So many people have an intense insecurity about that sort of thing. Vast numbers of people feel uncomfortable with their sexuality or not happy with their sexuality, and a lot of that is because people are not relating their sexuality to 'What I Need to Be Happy.' They're relating to 'How I Measure Up to This Porn Movie' or 'This Guy Bragging Into a Song' or 'How My Romance Measures Up to the New Tom Cruise Movie.'"

Of course, it's not like people are going around wondering "How My Sex Life Relates to Some Experimental Hardcore Punk Song I Heard on College Radio at 3 a.m." either. But Milemarker is well aware that they're not playing the cuddliest music around. How do you make hipster hardcore sexy, we ask? Tighter pants? Whiter belts? Blacker dye jobs?

"Experiment with it," Burian says. "In order for something to grow as an art form, it's gotta be able to express as much of people's lives as it can. Maybe when you're 14 or 15, you're pretty much just pissed at the world. But what happens when you get older and there's more going on in your life?"

Well, if you're Milemarker, you whip through all sorts of stylistic permutations—from screamy emo to rumbling electronica—before settling on a dissonant but potent blend of the two: it's quite a collision between Burian and guitarist Dave Laney's ragged anti-melody, drummer Tim Herzog's deliberately sinuous rhythm lines, and synthesizer wizard Roby Newton's ethereal singing, but it works. And it's a perfect blend of medium and message, a desperately sterile sound that makes us flash back to the old-school sexual dysfunction and choppy anti-melody of Gang of Four. (Witness the Gang's "Damaged Goods": "Your kiss so sweet/Your sweat so sour/Sometimes I'm thinking that I love you/But I know it's only lust," and there's your history lesson for the day, kids).

And funny we should mention Gang of Four. That's a sexual dysfunction unto itself, Burian explains—a particularly apt one for a band that sings about the politics of getting laid.

"That song is totally haunting me!" he sighs. "I'm getting the feeling that it's some kind of conspiracy to drive me crazy. I was basically just driven out of a relationship with a girl because she always wanted to listen to that song while we were making out. And it always freaked me out—it was like, 'Are you trying to make some sort of commentary?'"

Milemarker performs with Yaphet Kotto at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St, Pomona, (909) 629-0377. Tues., 7:30 p.m. $8. All ages.
 
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