Goodness. Not that one shouldn’t expect the finest quality recordings from Sacred Bones, perhaps the foie gras of underground weirdo mid-fi punk labels, but their second wave was becoming a bit suspect. The one-man bedroom antics of Ian Magee could have easily seeped into obscurity after a handful of singles that seemed to get lost in the shuffle with the (to use a term a colleague coined) blankdoggin’ hobos like Gary War, Pink Noise, Dead Luke, and a dozen or so more. Normally, it would take a lot to give attention to Magee for the length of an album; his forte seems to be quick hits of synth-punk dementia, usually submerged and distorted into a paranoia blitz that couldn’t possibly be tolerated 12 more times. The contrary seems true on Immer Etwas. It’s fitting that the title translates to “always something” because the record constantly slinks, stabs and shifts going for the throat like an all-night party that continually devolves, though you never want it to end. “A Gaping Gash” alone sounds like Gary Numan after a long bender with dollar-store inhalants.
By employing a third-world super-group of sorts, with members of Livefastdie and Imaginary Icons, Magee’s new Nice Face still manages to honor the wrist-slash of the perfunctory solo-version of Nice Face on “Selectron,” convulsing on drum machines and flammable guitars, and vocals underwater. But for the bulk of Immer Etwas, the band barrels through big menacing, almost possessed rock songs. “Hard Times” grows and grows, yet is smeared with black tar. “Blood in the Well” is zombie blues sans the oxygen in the room, and “Beater” is a one-minute pummeling that will allow you to set aside those Nobunny and Hunx platters. It’s almost as if Magee is laughing underneath it all, mocking his peers left and right, making something both devastating and beautiful in the process. The mood is just as much fantastical as it is chromatic punk, a balance that’s hard to accomplish. “Garbage Head” sticks to the synth-minimalist ethos of Devo and the Units, maybe the Screamers, but the song also seems to search for OMD and the Human League, a hankering for electro-pop excursion that clashes with atonal riffs and grotesque visions. Coming out of the insular, sci-fi closet that may have thwarted Nice Face’s evolution, Immer Etwas quickly launches Magee into a space that is equal to—if not completely eclipsing—his contemporaries.
Kevin J. Elliott