Good post-punk should keep you on your toes, combining the unease of losing your balance on a tipped chair with the momentum of a packed dance floor. (Also, great bass tone.) It’s a tall order nearly 50 years into the subgenre’s lifespan, but Stuck—and their great bass tone—are up to it.
Content That Makes You Feel Good, the newest EP from the Chicago-based band and first on Brooklyn’s Exploding in Sound, finds them returning to their hometown’s Jamdek Studios, with guitarist/vocalist Greg Obis handling engineering and mixing in-house this time around. While it’s barely been 18 months since their last release, Change Is Bad, the band belies both that title and their own name on Content by sharpening the edges of their sound and expanding their lyrical center outward.
Change is Bad tracks like “Plank II” and “Wrong Question” nodded broadly at societal and systemic ills, but Content stays focused on those targets for its entirety, calling for action with the pointed titles and lyrics of “Serf the Web,” “City of Police,” and “Playpen of Dissent.” That conceit isn’t the only refinement of their already tightly-wound sound, though: Obis has backed away from wholly in-the-red vocals for a more measured, almost-drawl that’s at times not dissimilar to Nick Cave’s. This welcome wrinkle keeps the sincerity of the EP’s subject matter at something of a remove, balancing its earnestness with a shot of vinegar.
But what is even the most conceptually sound post-punk without lockstep guitars or the aforementioned bass tone? Bassist David Algrim’s tone has moved closer to Chicago forebears Shellac’s razor-Slinky sound on Content, but not at the expense of their jagged, precision-targeted guitar skronk, which still arrives at the welcome juncture of AmRep-style noise and Wire/Gang of Four geometry. (Obis and Donny Walsh’s guitars are panned consistently throughout, which helps distinguish them as they careen around.) Keyboards have also started appearing in the nooks and crannies of the songs as well, and Obis wisely uses subtle, lo-fi tones rather than, say, speaker-rattling Moog drops.
Content’s greatest strength, though, is its sense of contrasting space. Songs contract and expand like lungs, hurtling towards abrupt drops, with tightly-picked patterns giving way to airy chords. Closer “Playpen of Dissent” drones to a claustrophobic, thickly-textured finish, underlining the dread its optimistic-on-paper closing lines—”I have to talk to my neighbors/ I have to talk to my coworkers”—might entail after a year and change indoors.
The EP’s promo materials gamely acknowledge the challenge of keeping things fresh, but Obis and co. needn’t worry. By simultaneously tightening the contours of their sound and stretching out, Stuck at this point is anything but.