Leave it to Josh Scogin (The Chariot, Norma Jean, Luti-Kriss) to blend rock, blues, and hardcore as if it were a genre that had a historical precedent. In 2017, Atlanta-based duo ’68 – composed of Scogin and drummer Nikko Yamada – made their mark with Two Parts Viper. When it was clear the band’s experimental sonic play was burgeoning, the waves of success only got bigger. In a surprise, ’68 dropped a new EP for the winter, giving fans another hit of their unique blend of reimagined noise rock with Love is Ain’t Dead.
According to the band, “’68 is the sound of simultaneous implosion and explosion, destruction and creation, unbound … a blacksmith’s resolve with an arsenal of electric distortion and raw nerve.” That juxtaposition wastes no time with the first track, “Bad Bad Lambo,” a frantic introduction. Scogin’s fuzzy vocals are met with an addictive guitar tone and Yamada’s busy, groovy drum work.
“The Lesser of Two Upheavals” is a fast blues jam littered with wild energy and a smattering of vocal accents. Between that, the busy snare, and unhinged guitar riffs, it’s the musical equivalent of an authentic Jackson Pollock with purposeful rough edges that could have been smoothed out in the mixing or mastering process but are instead triumphed as a mark of character. A chorus or two are thrown in as a breather only to be ramped up again and again for the thrill of the wild ride.
’68’s cover of David Essex’s 1973 groove-jam “Rock On” settles in perfectly to the middle of the EP with a noisy start and slower, sludgy feel. The sole, iconic riff carries through the entire track, clothed in a thick layer of deep blues attitude. The final track, “Nervous Passenger,” completes this collection of distorted tones and frenzied instrumentation. Its pirate-like, waltz cadence paired with sliding melodies and a wall of gang vocals does its work in making two men sound like 20.
The experimental sounds and bold rhythms are certainly not the mark of traditional rock, but it’s clear from the beginning that ’68 was aiming for something a bit (a lot?) more abstract. In all that electric distortion and “raw nerve,” the band delivers with complete control. With only four songs on the EP, each track creates a gradual-yet-immediate unraveling of traditional hardcore, doubling down on the claims of their juxtaposition.
When a band is so comfortable in the music they make, no matter how avant-garde or wild or frayed, they establish roots that take hold of listeners in new ways. Call it enthusiasm, eagerness, or spontaneity, Scogin’s decision to release the handful of songs ’68 was holding in their pocket was extremely timely. With 2020 pumping the brakes in music, Love is Ain’t Dead offers just the right kind of sheer volume and transmittable angst that fans are starved for.