The Tower (12XU)
Reviewed by Kevin Curtin, Fri., May 26, 2017
In the same way a recent breakup dupes your ears into believing that every pop tune is about your erstwhile lover, the social climate of 2017 tempts interpretation of any punk song as a Molotov hurled at Trump Tower. That Mordor-like skyscraper graces Xetas' sophomore LP art, a tarot-framed image of the building jolted by lightning as rats plummet toward the sewer. And yet, social frustrations igniting the Austin trio's lyrical flame on The Tower source wider than one despot in his castle. "I'm living my life on the defensive," laments bassist/vocalist Kana Harris in anti-harassment opener "The Gaze," after rattling off a litany of daily situations where unsolicited advances await. Guitarist/vocalist David Petro – John Doe to Harris' Exene – commiserates: "I know you're tired of feeling like there's no place left for us to go!" A stylistic odd couple of stone-faced post-punks, Xetas' front line trades lyrics reading less like single-minded declarations than societal dialogue. As Harris wrestles "sadness monsters" on standout "The Jaws," Petro completes its call-and-response with words of encouragement. Ultimately, Xetas' passionate noise punk envisions a record collection where Fugazi, Godflesh, and X stack side by side. As such, their own catalog advances with The Tower, besting their 2015 debut despite losing irreplaceable drummer Matt Buie. Between eviscerating amplifiers with his sonic attack, Petro growls resentful love poetry on album highlight "The Lamb," while "The Machine" treads unprecedented melodic territory to summit an inspiring refrain. Powerful statements come when artists rise above the rhetoric. "We bear these arms, not to defend ourselves – assault is not defense, revenge is not justice," blasts "The Future." The Tower isn't a political record, but rather a life record – existence through struggle – but of course they're one and the same.