Nick Sakes boasts one of those impeccable underground-rock track records. His discography to date encompasses three brilliant, insular projects: prog-minded post-hardcore nightmare merchants Dazzling Killmen, cryptic art-punk psychos Colossamite and the skewed yet surprisingly tuneful Sicbay. Now, more than two decades on from Sakes's recording debut, comes the part where we inform you that the guitarist/shrieker has "matured," and is prepping his first singer-songwriter record or somesuch. Except that's entirely false; Sakes's latest band, Xaddax-- a duo with drummer Chrissy Rossettie -- is as challenging and gloriously cathartic as anything he's done to date.
Sakes and Rossettie met at Chicago's Fireside Bowl back in 2001, when Sicbay shared a bill with Rossettie's former band, the head-spinning neo–No Wave outfit My Name Is Rar-Rar. Flash forward to '09, when Sakes (then living in Minneapolis) and the Brooklyn-based Rossettie reconnected online and struck up a long-distance romance. Soon Sakes headed east, and within a few months, the pair had hatched a new musical entity, named Xaddax in honor of their shared love of "palindromes and pointy letters." A flurry of live shows commenced.
Counterclockwork, the debut Xaddax release is a must-hear for any Nick Sakes fan, but what's most impressive about the 25-minute LP is the way it places his trademark livid howl in an entirely new context. Working with a mad-scientist electroacoustic drum set-up -- huge toms, no cymbals, various sample-triggering pads and a foot-controlled synth pedal -- Rossettie pounds out lurching math-disco rhythms, haloed in scuzzy sci-fi FX. Sakes responds with perversely anthemic riffs and mantra-like shouts, resulting in a kind of hot-wired hardcore -- like Devo gone nastily dystopic. In a sense, Counterclockwork sounds like nothing Nick Sakes has ever done, but the record's spirit -- venemous aggression combined with bold ingenuity -- fulfills every promise of one of the most fiercely uncompromising discographies in contemporary American music.