s a band progresses with time, the quality of their output generally follows one of four models. There’s the ascending straight line model, where a band gradually gets better with each release. More often, there’s there descending straight line model, where a band initially puts out great music but gets worse with each release. Then there’s the somewhat rare non-moving straight line model where a band’s releases are all consistent, with no definitive rise or fall in quality (think Fugazi). Then, there’s the fourth, perhaps most common band-quality trendline – the bell curve. This curve is categorized by the unpolished, not so good releases at the beginning of a band’s life, the best releases midway into the bandlife, and weaker releases towards the end of the band’s life, usually a sign that the band has run out of good ideas and should break up already (Rolling Stones, are you listening?) Most bands follow this trend – Virginia’s Milemarker being no exception. I guess I’ll say it right now: If Milemarker’s third album, Frigid Forms Sell, was the maximum point on the bell curve, Anaesthetic is closer to the inflection point after the peak.
But enough with the mathematics. Anaesthetic is an almost solid album on its own, offering up more of the anarchistic, post-hardcore by-way-of new-wave (pardon the over-hyphenation) that has made Milemarker legends in the Virginia hardcore/indie scene. Still, none of this changes the fact that their best days may very well be behind them. Frigid Forms Sell was, for lack of a better word, “ballsy”. It was the ideal marriage of chaotic hardcore, complex post-hardcore, and atmospheric new wave – an album out of the DC/Virginia area that struck out its own path instead of trying to be a 10th-rate version of Fugazi. It was an album that ignored the hardcore scene’s fear of innovation and gave all of the close-minded kids something to really be afraid of. With that said, Anaesthetic is basically a tamer, more sedate version of Frigid Forms. It’s a ballsy album minus the balls.
Within the first seconds of Anaesthetic, you can tell that the cathartic, ridiculously confident Milemarker of past is pretty much gone. “Shrink To Fit”, although a catchy new-wave number, is just that. It has nothing on “Frigid Forms Sell You Warmth”, the opening track of their last album. Where “Frigid Forms” went for the throat with screamed lines like “There’s a credit line attached to every form of suicide” accompanied by some of the most frantic drumrolls ever recorded, “Shrink” is content with a couple keyboard hooks and lyrics such as “Split the seams and start all over again” that sound downright lethargic compared to Milemarker’s earlier output. Based on this song and the six that follow, it’s very obvious that Anaesthetic is intended to be a logical progression from Frigid Forms – the only problem is that it’s the kind of logical progression that emphasizes the actual progression more than the logic behind it. All of the most exciting parts of Milemaker’s sound – the tension, the catchiness, and the blistering wit – are gone, leaving the prog-ish soundscapes and the occasional hook to dominate – the parts of their sound that could be easily replicated by any other indie band.
Some of the Milemarker sound of old is still present on this album, only this time it’s buried under layers of mid-paced, angular indie rock. Every now and then, there’s a great hook, drumroll, or inspired keyboard line that shows that the band is still conscious of what they’re doing musically. On tracks such as “Ant Architect” and “Food For Worms” the refined, more streamlined approach actually pays off – although these tracks lack the fire of earlier releases, they are memorable tracks and worthy enough successors to albums past. I never thought I’d use the word “soothing” to describe this band, but that word describes these two tracks precisely. Yes, Milemarker may have improved the atmospheric aspect of their sound, but that was never the strongest part of their sound to begin with. “A Quick Trip To The Clinic” sounds like a New Order cover, complete with bouncing bassline and synth. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to the listener. Herein, however, lies that recurring problem with Anaesthetic – it’s just not Milemarker enough. This can be seen especially on the unfocused, almost half-assed “Lost The Thoughts, But Kept The Skin”, a half prog, half post-hardcore track that really just reeks of torpor and bores me to death even as I listen to it while typing this sentence.
The layout of the album – which only consists of a pink cover with a white horse on it (no liner notes, no track listing, no lyrics) pretty much sums up the fact that something is really missing from Anaesthetic. The album name is fitting - it’s as if the band was given anaesthetics before recording this album. The songs are here and for the most part, they’re enjoyable, but the feeling that they could have been so much better if Milemarker put more feeling into these songs hangs over the listener throughout the entire album. All I know is that this isn’t the feeling that Milemarker was aiming to evoke.
Reviewed by: Nnamdi Ezeife
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01