For the last couple of years, Philadelphia cretins FNU Ronnies, have toiled in their own brand of nether-fidelity, scattering around releases on various underground labels like anemic stepchildren without a permanent residence to call their own. Finally a full-length appears in Saddle Up, and it’s on Load Records no less. Load could be the perfect settlement for the Ronnies, as it’s a label that includes everything from Lightning Bolt to Sword Heaven, and the Ronnies manage to capitulate all along that spectrum. If there’s one song here emblematic of those seizure-fueled transfigurations, it’s the dystopian stomp of “Ant People.” Within the course of four minutes, the Ronnies go in and out of consciousness, from amphetamine sci-fi punk blasts to knuckle-dragging dystopia. It will certainly give fits to anyone trying to pin the group down to one point of reference. The closest I can come is Chrome’s futuristic nightmare scenarios, as there’s a putrid obsession here with cracked technology, lost radio transmissions, live amplified interactions with their audience, and a general blitzkrieg of what it must sound like when circuits and systems crash into one another and implode.
At barely 24 minutes long, Saddle Up hardly qualifies as a complete record, but the Ronnies pack it with enough interesting shifts to give the listener the illusion they’ve been taken on a pro-destructo journey through what’s left of this wasteland. Of course, there are other bands kicking around in similar man vs. machine coordinates (Human Eye and the Factums come to mind), but none of them attempt to explore those realms with as much fervor and velocity as this record does. The FNU Ronnies could be content playing snotty hardcore in lo-fi spurts, as they do at the onset with “You Don’t Looks So Good” and “Cut to Ribbons,” but decide instead to take it one step beyond, matching wits with robotic overlords in “Laptop vs. Beef” and bone-playing cyber-cavemen on the epic (for them) title track.
As we’ve heard in the past, the Ronnies are overtly nihilistic when it comes to recording. It’s a trait that truly sets them apart, taking the whole “making home recording your bitch” approach and going for something even more insufferable. And in that past I’ve likened this approach to that of the seminal Hairdryer Peace–sound birthed by the Hospitals’ Adam Stonehouse, an aural reality where the senses are blurred, tricked and often disoriented to the point of noise-induced transcendence. Yes, there are a number of records that attempt to find that rotten spot, but ultimately fail or flail in indulgent skronk. The Ronnies know perfectly how to manipulate each batch of fuzz, each split-second of empty space, and each tonal shift to their advantage. The finale here, “Silver Bullet,” is straight punk in the beginning, but is eventually run through a series of distorted gauntlets before it dissolves into a pool of toxic puss. And that poolside, though the view is smog-filtered and filled with rubble, is a disturbingly beautiful sight to behold. Some of us want the apocalypse now.
Kevin J. Elliott