“Oh, it’s that record club. The first nine were only a penny. Then they jacked up the price! [breaks down crying] It’s not fair! It’s not fair, I tells ya!” Record Club will be a recurring feature on not just records I love but a love letter to the physical format. Collecting runs deep in my family, so expect to see lots of cool finds here. “I joined a record club. They hounded me for years.”
For my inaugural “Record Club” post it is only fitting that we take a look at the recently reissued And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea from DC’s seminal Spazzcore/Mech-Core outfit Frodus. It’s my favorite record of all time, for reasons we will get into later in this post, so you can imagine my excitement opening my door to find this package waiting for me. Ironically, the “certified frustration-free packaging” proved harder to open than a typical LP mailer. Go figure.
“Weapons drawn / rock and roll is war!” a line from the first track, the bass grooving, steadily chugging, throat ripping “Red Bull of Juarez” perfectly encapsulates the angular aggression of Frodus’ heavier moments and their anti-commercial ethos. This swan song album, recorded just before Frodus called it a day, was rescued from obscurity when Fueled By Ramen released it as a gesture of genuine love. That is, until Pop Emo like Fall Out Boy and Paramore made the label’s catalog a boon to be cashed in on. FBR went the way of a couple notable 00s mallcore record labels and sold out their history to a holding company.
And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea is still accessible in the States in digital forms on Amazon, Spotify, etc but can’t be pushed in Europe where Frodus frontman, Shelby Cinca, spent the last decade or so and where indeed Frodus likely saw the most success throughout their career. The band toured Sweden for weeks in the late 90s, something that no one did, playing the same small towns multiple times and forging lasting friendships.
Perhaps more by dumb luck than foresight, the band retained vinyl rights for their last album, due in large part to its posthumous release in 2001 at a time where vinyl sales were at a low. The record did get the long-playing record treatment through Day After Records based in the Czech Republic, along with a tape release that apparently didn’t see the light of day until Lovitt Records dug up a box of dead stock cassettes.
Lovitt Records, long-time supporters of Frodus, are the label backing this special edition, remastered pressing of the band’s last–and some would argue best–record. If you are fortunate enough to have tracked down an OG copy on black or translucent blue(which I need!), then you can now thankfully retire it for a new “listening” copy with remastered audio along with a bonus 7″ that is worth putting in an order or tracking down a retail copy for alone. The packaging features a fantastic collage of photos, original lyrics and other Frodian artifacts. Let this be a warning that there are very few copies of the green and clear combo left. Retailers will be stocked with black. I’ll be tracking one of those down at some point.
Pictured on the cover of the bonus 7″ is a letter written by the last Frodus bass player, Nathan Burke, to front man Shelby Cinca around the time of the record’s release when Cinca and drummer–the other founding member–Jason Hamacher had begun talk of restarting the band. In this letter, Nathan gives his casual dissent at the idea of reactivating the band, at the least signaling his official departure had Cinca and Hamacher decided to press on. The planets didn’t align of course, the label initially set to release it–MIA Records–folded so that the owner could settle a lawsuit from 20 years prior which would have reawakened the band, filming a music video and really pushing the record.
Whether this would have lead to any real success is debatable. The timing was right for the kind of music they played, and the album was a legitimate influence on Thrice and the like, but their outsider weirdo vibe may have prevented a breakout. If their ship had not come in when the band nearly signed with Sub Pop circa the recording of Weapons–a point where I imagine an alternate universe branches off from our own in which Frodus is revered as one third of a trinity with At the Drive-In and Refused–then I can’t imagine Frodus making it big through the rise of swoop-hair Emo.
Beneath the packaging, the behind-the-scenes aspect of the 7″ goes deeper with a recording from 1995 which was handed off by Burke to Cinca along with the letter of himself playing an acoustic cover of a very early Frodus song “Tzo-Boy” which he had made prior to joining the band. On the b-side is a demo take of “There Will Be No More Scum” that initially saw release in 1999 on the Tooth & Nail sampler Songs from the Penalty Box vol. 3 before the band officially cut ties with the label.
I should admit here that neither tracks on this 7″ were new to me. That’s not bragging, it’s actually a little embarrassing. I had found both of these tracks digging through Soulseek for rarities, but I will say, having heard these recordings previously only doubled my excitement for this reissue. Nathan’s stripped down take on “Tzo-Boy” became a repeated mantra for me during the last few months of bank operations hell–often played on repeat during breaks or on my drive to work–trying to find the strength to make it through another soul crushing day. When on the final time through the refrain he sings “I hope I make it / I hope I make it back / I hope I make it / I’m never coming back” it took all my will power not to just walk away.
Frodus have always inspired me. To question authority, to inspect my own motivations, to play music, to scream, to find balance and now to take charge of my own fate, to boldly go where I need to, even if I never make it. I came out the other side of that job with a little gravel in my guts, a lot of assurance that I never want to work for another corporation again and the determination to pursue what matters to me.
It is almost eerie that this record should finally be re-released now. In fact, I ordered my copy from my phone in a hotel room in Gainesville, Florida on the last night of Fest which I left out for the day I left that terrible bank job. It was like a karmic balancing act, righting the wrong that had been done in my life when I had previously been fired from a corporate office job just prior to my first Fest two years ago. My vocational woes post-college mimic that period of teenage angst and existential turmoil that fused with genuine depression and anxiety at the time I first discovered Weapons and the relief of finding something for a burgeoning nerdy Punk kid to resonate with.
My introduction to Frodus, like most of my musical tastes, came by way of Christian Rock. I grew up buying most of my CDs from the music section of Christian bookstores, so Tooth & Nail and Solidstate Records formed the bedrock of my tastes in Punk. A few months prior to hearing Weapons for the first time I got a taste of Frodus on the 10th Anniversary Tooth & Nail box set which included the track “Misaligned Men of Flomaton” from Frodus’ 1998 record Conglomerate International, a spazzcore take-down of corporate music and a warning of the rapidly advancing internet age. It was weird. My ears were too attuned to bad Metalcore to really get it. It took a recommendation in a download thread on the Demon Hunter messageboards to give them a real chance. That first bass dig had me hooked. In just 46 minutes I had discovered my favorite record of all time. Thanks Augustwinterman.
By the end of the night I had done a ton of research. Justin and I sat wide eyed in front of his laptop, stealing wireless from our neighbor, reading up on the band’s history and delving through their website. Within a few months I had downloaded all their major releases and begun to branch out into related bands and influences.
And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea achieves a kind of alchemy no other band has accomplished. Fusing together see-saw Dishord rhythm and turn of the millennium Post-Hardcore polish. Shelby bounces back and forth between his traditional nearly shrieking shout and untrained, but effective clean singing. The pace is slowed down on this record and the songs are given room to breathe. The layered, jagged guitars are mixed with a roominess that reminds me of Hoover’s Lurid Traversal of Route 7 and they pair so masterfully with Burke’s fuzzy, loping bass lines that the comparison is more than apt. The guitars warble and echo and then snap back into a tight attack that is viscerally lock step with Jason’s drumming who gets his fair shot to explore a wider sonic range than on previous Frodus records. Hamacher brings a John Bonham-esque, jazzy, but deceptively simple sounding quality to the rhythm section. Take for instance the slippery snare accents, the syncopated kick and steady hi-hat and ride crashes of “The Earth Isn’t Humming.” I’m no drummer, I can’t really break down his technique, but I can say that he does things here that you would never expect from someone with the Thrash and Youth Crew pedigree that Jason possesses.
“Chiriacho Summit” is the first major departure on the record, shifting from the fiery, dynamic Post-Hardcore of the first four songs into a droning, hypnotic rhythm overlaid with a wet, surf-y guitar line and monotone clean vocals. The track is named for an unincorporated community in the Colorado desert of California, a remote travel stop along I-10 south of Joshua Tree and the song does the region justice, capturing that meditative state of a desert drive laced with the edge of anxiety that comes from being in such a remote and threatening territory. It’s followed up by the instrumental “Belgian Congo” before launching into the righteous, but tempered fury of “The Awesome Machine” which warns of the “recurring threat of technology” balanced by reminding us “it’s not a reason to reject it all / just the minds who abuse the knowledge.” The cut ends by somehow predicting the democratizing effect of the oncoming internet age on the music industry, meshing of cultures, the preservation of this record and the spirit of Frodus calling out “we will traverse the empty season of now / We will be vindicated!”
“6/99” bares all of the pain of the member’s personal lives–Jason’s then fiancee was diagnosed with cancer, Shelby’s grandfather had suffered a stroke and Nathan’s romantic relationship at the time was falling apart–in a surprisingly restrained outpouring of emotion. It’s a stunning moment on the record and no wonder that the lines “we could disappear in echoes / we could disappear in the lives of those we love” have come to define Weapons and that tragic period of their lives.
“Hull Crush Depth” is perhaps the oddest track here with it’s bass dirge, electronic drum beat, sparse keyboards, delayed guitars and an indecipherable, warped and buried sample. It hearkens to similar sound experiments on the previous Conglomerate International; but here it serves more as a funeral march. “Year of the Hex” carries on the same unsettling vibe, this time with a heavily distorted Burke serving one last admonition to not be like those who “trade love/life for dividends” and “sell all you are for all you think you see” but not without the final auspice “there is no final word / as long as you breathe / There is no final verse / as long as you live.” With that the instrumental title track plays off calmly, like the tide rolling back out, taking with it all the pain, anger and disappointment that had been churned up throughout the record.
For me, every listen to Weapons is like a ritualistic washing away of so much doubt, anxiety and rage and though the circumstances surrounding it’s creation and the requisite catharsis it took to make it has cast a pall on this period of their lives–prompting Shelby to repeatedly deny any requests to play it start to finish live–it has been like a salve to me. When Burke screams “in my axis I splinter / ground to dust / I still see what you don’t” I feel a little less alone and a lot less afraid.
Dylan Hensley is a record collecting, punk nerd who edits and publishes this dumb blog. He works at an art house movie theater in Winston-Salem, NC and looks for freelance work the rest of the time. Follow on twitter for no reason other than you can. Follow on Instagram if you like pictures of cats, records and bands. Email him at businesscreep[at]gmail[dot]com if you like the way he puts words together and want to pay him to do that.