Adventures in lo-fi

Pigboat treat us as equals
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  July 11, 2014

 
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Once you have truly engaged with the American healthcare system and racked up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills (or, if you’re particularly unlucky, a sum so vast it seems impossible), you become a changed person.

Like someone who’s gone through torture or been a hostage. It’s that bad. Humiliating and humbling and frightening and instilling a real feeling of hopelessness you work to ensure your kids will never have to experience.

It’s the sort of thing metal was made for. One obvious reason for heavy music is catharsis, a healthy release for all the built-up bullshit modern life entails. Like kickboxing class for suburban women, but with lots of black clothing and long hair.

Pigboat’s always been good at laughing at life’s bullshit, but their new and long-awaited album, Distracted by Adventures in Healthcare, takes that magnifying glass and holds it up to the sun, searing our collective absurdities anew.

Just as they were with Float in 2009, Pigboat are smart enough to not want to spend much time proving it to you. These are not big studio production values. The snare tends to be really bright, the guitars and vocals a little muddy, and the album as a whole fares better in big spaces than in headphones. It’s raw in the right ways, though, and never predictable or easy.

The eight songs here are everything from two-and-a-half minutes of charge-ahead “8:49 p.m.” to the sprawling “Manhattan,” which stretches out well past seven minutes. They are and are not a stoner rock band, with tendencies toward jamming on a riff, but with a kind of punk curtness that shows up in everything from their I-don’t-give-a-fuck production values to the directness of their lyrics.

I’ll leave it to the listener to gauge how much of that directness has inspiration in the healthcare experience. Vocalist and guitarist Mark Belanger thanks Dr. Helen Ryan and all at MCCM in the liner notes. Drummer Brian Chaloux thanks Dr. Elizabeth Bobzien, Dr. Devon Evans, Dr. Leslie Wu, and the R5 staff at Maine Medical Center. I’m not going to invade their privacy any further, or delve into their intentions, but, well, this is a long way off from “I Don’t Give a Fuck About Your Couch”:

“You don’t care that I’m dying / We know that we’re both lying / To keep our jaws from seizing / To prove our own irrelevance.”

It’s a sing-song piece that has you planning from the outset how it will fire up and get loud. The guitar is seriously wah-ed out, rippling sound waves, and there are doubled Belanger vocals: a low-down, dispirited voice in the bottom and a yelled delivery up top.

“Storytime” is more Pixies, with Ed Porter’s bass doing melody work into the first verse, which is sung in dramatic fashion, a touch of Cobain entering as it continues in its disdain for apathetic humanity; they’ve heard all about how hard your life is, “But tell me one more time.”

Maybe the best track here comes in the bonus materials (there are also photos and videos), with Sean Libby guesting on vocals for a song he wrote for former band Balls Deep (he’s on guitar with Sylvia and does vocals on Johnny Cremains, too). “Paranoid Surrender” is cleaner in the vocals than most tracks, and features interesting changes of pace that Libby introduces and guides with his lyrics.

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