An Exit Stencil Threesome

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Remember the SAT? Well if you do, then CDR is to Columbus as Exit Stencil is to Cleveland. Yes, despite my bias against the armpit of Ohio, the Indians, the Browns, the RNR Hall of Fame, and the eternal stench, Exit Stencil have proven that the city is much more than simply Pere Ubu, Electric Eels, and Bone Thugz. There’s actually a diverse and thriving music scene going on there. Go figure. Though a dear friend (and Cleveland native) recently quipped that all my stereotypes regarding his city were completely justified, I’m tempted to say, with this recent slew of Exit Stencil releases, there’s finally a suitable rivalry to deal with. This is not a condescending statement, merely fact. There has always been a Cleveland “sound” that has never sat well with my stomach, that is, until now.

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Most surprising is the latest from The Dreadful Yawns. The Cleveland band that has the distinction of being the last band on Bomp Records before Greg Shaw passed on, also have the distinction of giving Exit Stencil what may be the year’s finest roots-rock record in Rest. Those who are underwhelmed by the simplicity and lackluster of Wilco’s latest will find solace in this group’s gentle charm. It’s played with the usual suspects (banjos, lap-steel, plenty of acoustics), in similar pastoral climes, but has an almost space-rock, ambient bent that pushes it beyond normal folk patterns. For fans of a more Americana-based Mojave 3 or an escape from alt-country that leans too far towards the country.

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Perhaps most unusual is Exit Stencil’s introduction of Mystery of Two. While there’s a forced Ubu element to everything they do, especially in the frantic vocals, this band (a trio) has much more in common with skittish post-pop. Pieces of the Wedding Present, Orange Juice, and (ahem) Steely Dan, find formation in the Mystery’s complex sound. A modern equivalent would be Houseguest from Akron, who follow a similarly quirky path. But then again, Mystery of Two have a mind of their own, welding in noisy bridges of guitar scrawl and studied mathematic rhythms. Not for the timid, Arrows Are All You Know may be the distinct “sound” of Cleveland in the present; something David Thomas would applaud as originally worthwhile. To Columbus-philes that means this is Necropolis for sissies, though worth a concentrated listen.

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I used to think (a few weeks ago) that the Homostupids (also from Cleveland) might save the punk universe. Then the latest seven-inch of vinyl from This Moment in Black History arrived at my doorstep. According to Exit Stencil, this is the band that got them “off the ground” and there’s no doubt with these two songs. There’s a fine balance between old-school aesthetics and new-found revolution in “About Last Night” that makes me proud to be from Ohio (even if I’m not from Cleveland). Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that the New Bomb Turks got back together for one night (again in June 2007), but hearing that same, bile-spitting desperation coupled with the modern middle finger flipped by Black Moment puts most 90′s punk revivalism to bed, for good. There’s nothing post or angular about what they do, it’s simply raw and unfettered. Kinda like the Germs were still around and flaunted their love of Public Enemy.

If your local record store isn’t stocking these you can always get them directly from here. Enjoy. Just ask these bands to come round these parts, as there’s no reasonable excuse to travel north, even for good, wholesome music such as this.

  • Ian Wying

    Um . . . what about Rocket From The Tombs, Mirrors, the Dead Boys, the Styrenes, the Pagans, the Wombats, the Offbeats, Starvation Army, Death of Samantha, the Mice, Prisonshake, et al.?

    And Marilyn Manson?

    As Ron House himself said, “Cleveland’s cool.”