“Let’s ruin everything, everything gets ruined, everything!”
And with that shouted refrain, the lads in Showbread are at it again, this time for the last time.
Showbread has been around for almost two decades now, and despite lineup changes being so numerous it’s well past comical, they’ve managed to continuously release music that is beautiful, jarring, compelling, controversial, deep, bizarre, funny, sublime, and ever-changing. Almost gleefully, they have made it their business to confound expectations, pursuing their own artistic vision, even to the detriment of their “career.” This single-minded pursuit of art and calling is one of the most compelling – and off-putting – parts of Showbread’s identity. It’s a very polarizing approach, and very few folks seem to be undecided as to whether they love them or hate them.
Ask someone what Showbread sounds like, and you’ll likely get an avalanche of adjectives; you might come away feeling like he or she was talking about several different bands. Everything from punk to classic rock to industrial to powerpop is thrown into the mix, in such varying degrees as to sound fresh in each subsequent iteration.
The most recent (and final) musical missive from the Portland, Oregon-based seven-piece, Showbread Is Showdead, tips a courteous hat towards the band’s history, before injecting a fresh dose of adrenaline and entering into uncharted territory. Featuring members old, current and new, it’s more than a worthy effort.
Musically, it’s a bit like a collage of snapshots of the life of the band, and each of the different eras of Showbread are sonically represented. The frenetic punk of “A Llama Eats a Giraffe (And Vice Versa)” on “January 3, 1889: Nietzsche Witnesses the Flogging of a Horse”, the noise-rock recalling bands like Mest on “Harry Harlow and the Monkeys of Despair”, the radio-crushing singable chorus and infectious ear-worm groove of “Mouth Like A Magazine” on “Why Shouldn’t We Kill Ourselves?”, the moody and dense electronic landscapes of “Anorexia/Nervosa” on the album’s title track – all make a memorable appearance before being unceremoniously kicked off the stage by the next movement of this jarring symphony. It shouldn’t work, but it most certainly does.
All seven members of this last incarnation of Showbread are undeniably strong in their contributions. Patrick Porter’s enormous bass lines plow through the album; returning (and much beloved) vocalist Ivory Mobley spits out lyrics like a nail gun set to rapid-fire. Guitarists of yore Landon Ginnings and Mike Jensen infuse heavy, melodic riffs, blistering lead lines and screeching dissonant chord progressions; newcomer Ryan Peterson sets the pace with complex, thundering drum patterns, recalling both the finesse of Neil Pert and the energy of Animal from the Muppets. Singer Josh Dies alternates between velociraptor-like screams, tuneful balladeering and punk-rock-pep-rally yells, while Garrett Holmes’s saw-edged synths cut a swathe through the noise.
Dies’ lyrics have been one of the sharper arrows in Showbread’s quiver since the beginning, and he’s impeccably accurate in this final chapter of the band’s story. He rails at all that is shallow and plastic about modern American society in “Why Shouldn’t We Kill Ourselves?”: “Stop the assembly line / the 3D-printed New Man / everything you own ends up owning you.” He contemplates his own shortcomings and the finiteness of life in “My Shadow Is A Bat”: “Break my bones, make them rejoice / suddenly I’ve fallen silent like I’ve lost my voice / all the things I do wrong, I do them for me / I keep pretending that I matter, hoping no one sees.” Pointedly, he eulogizes the band and his relationship to it while pondering how he will live without it in “Showbread Is Showdead.”
The production of the album also sounds incredible, like someone electrocuted a birthday cake, smeared it onto a 45, and cut it as hot as they could without melting the vinyl. You can hear the sound of the room in which they recorded, the energy of the vocalists’ hoarse-throated chants and the slightly distorted edge to the drums as mixer and longtime studio cohort Rich Veltrop pushes the faders into the red. If you ever wondered what it might sound like if a punk band stormed into a Top 40 radio station and took over the console, this is the album for you.
It’s not a perfect album (no album is, except Blindside’s About A Burning Fire), but it’s as strong and tenacious as anything they’ve ever released, tempered in the forge of maturity such that the few bumpy bits that remain have been smoothed out. That’s rather more than anyone might expect after nearly 20 years. As they’ve said so many times and in so many ways, Showbread has always steadfastly pursued two goals: make great art, and make great the name of Jesus through it.
With Showbread Is Showdead, they’ve done both.
“If I can be a light for you, to help you find your way,
Just pointing at someone bigger than me,
Then that would be okay.”
To Showbread, we say: Thank you. And may raw rock kill you forever and ever.