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Arab on Radar



Providence, Rhode Island's Arab on Radar plays the kind of ear-bleedingly alien music that inspires hecklers to ask questions like "Are you all from a club for people who were dropped on their heads as children?" The four lunatics in this band very well might have, though there is also the possibility that there is something much more seriously wrong with them. There is very little frame of reference for what they do. Melody is completely nonexistent here: it's supplanted by hectic rhythms built from impossibly trebly guitars (played by Stephen Mattos and Jeff Schneider) that wander in awkward circles like flies in the middle of a room (taking occasional abrupt detours when someone comes after them with a rolled-up newspaper), endless distortion, and cruddy sticks-on-plastic-buckets type percussion (Craig Kurek). Then there are the vocals, courtesy of Eric Paul, which sound like they're being issued by a castrato who's just been kicked in the groin. Adding to the fun, most of the lyrics are like surreal hallucinations about various kinds of genital-related dysfunction (see "his nuts inflate like a blowfish when his prostate senses danger," "the penalty for bedwetting is neglect," "nice girls don't soak the saddle...nice girls enjoy my erection on the school bus.") Arab on Radar definitely gets an "A" for "abrasive," but at the same time manages to be endlessly compelling because they're just so...warped.

Since forming in solidarity after all being rejected from the same job (at a nuclear testing facility, no less!), the members of Arab on Radar have banged out four full-length experiments in advanced aural weaponry. They got started with 1997's Queen Hygiene II (Herparin), followed a year later by Rough Day at the Orifice (a concept album about a day in the life in an asshole, released on Op Pop Pop).

These two early efforts caught the twisted ear of the twisted folks at Chicago's (Skin Graft, who in 2000 took Arab on Radar aboard to record the gross-out metalloid No Wave blues of Soak the Saddle, a very disturbing record which features an unhealthy obsession with bodily orifices and a particular fondness for godawful guitar noises. It features "1" (the songs have no names, only numbers, though naturally they're not in proper numeric order), a track which feels a bit like having an icepick hammered into your eardrum.

With 2001's Yahweh or the Highway, Arab on Radar continued their quest to make punk rock feel like a root canal performed by an amateur dentist in a public restroom. The album's intensely seasick rhythms and scraping, metal-on-metal guitars will have you reaching for the Dramamine, but the force of Paul's screeching adenoidal yowl will knock the bottle from your hand before you've got it open. You're left with little choice but to ride along for the duration of the 25-minute album, sampling the unique joys of "My Mind Is a Muffler," which is arena rock for naughty, miswired robots, "God Is Dead," which pairs drums that feel sound like jackhammers with guitars that feel like catheters, and "Birth Control Blues," which sends the treble quotient into the stratosphere. The weird thing is that when you're finished with Yahweh or the Highway, you might find you want to do it all over again.