Dull Knife

The first few weeks of January at Primitive Futures’ headquarters are usually spent clearing out the racks, refreshing the hive and re-evaluating late album entries from the prior year. Dull Knife is a label with an odd roster, a sporadic release schedule, and albums that often take a minute to creep fully into consciousness. So it was no surprise that despite initially ignoring Household’s debut, Items, after some time it’s become a rewarding listen. Clad in a simple white cover with an un-Googleable name, Items is easy to pass over as there a number of semi-established trios (e.g. Grass Widow, Pens, Yellow Fever) knocking around in a similar dry and brittle, Raincoats-inspired, post-punk clubhouse. At nine songs in 18 minutes, the brevity of Items might suggest that the record is coiled to a homogenous fault, built on stale Gang of Four riffs and over before any sense of artistry sets in. With Household, nothing is further from the truth once you listen through a second time. Sure, on the surface, there is a bit of green showing. It’s wiry and common, with the usual sparseness found in the era these girls are aping, but it’s also full of quirky intricacies that set it apart from the Kleenex axis.

First and foremost, the trio’s accent on melody and calculated harmonies trumps the chemistry found in their rhythms. There are times when you suspect their upbringing was more influenced by personalities like Liz Phair and Mary Timony and less by the confrontational edge of the riot grrls. The relaxed “Wave Goodbye” is a spooky march rather than spit-and-shine blast. The inner dialogue half-sung, half-spoken in the lead track, “Go Away,” projects a depth not usually found in rickety twee punk of this ilk. This effect works best on the nearly epic (considering it’s almost three minutes) “Desperate Times,” which begins as a minimal deconstruction of a Fall line-up led by Susanne Vega, but explodes and expands towards its end. Though propulsion is the premium in Household’s attack, they know when to bob and weave, take a breath, and strike at an opportune moment. When they do fall into the trappings of, say, early Sleater-Kinney, especially on the finale “Cold Hands,” there’s really no verse-chorus-verse structure to Items; it’s elastic and rarely sits on the same idea for very long. Instead, new melodies and new hooks start to orbit around the basic parameters put in place by the trio’s nucleus of inspiration. Household continues to build and build all the way to the record’s last few minutes, making a compelling case for anything that comes after this spastic, yet reserved, debut.
Kevin J. Elliott