By Matt Matasci
Charlie Wagner is a punk rock lifer. There’s rarely a time the guy is not in an active band, playing shows and writing music. Whether that is in the Bay Area, Orange County, Boston, San Diego, and now, Seattle, it doesn’t matter. There are few that possess the dedication to creating music that he has. While over the last few decades his various bands have created some interesting and adventurous post-hardcore, most of these projects have gone caput before wider underground attention could be captured. With his latest project, Slow Code, that dedication and ambition have been matched by drummer Evan Macy-Beckwith and bassist Amy Peterson; the early results have materialized in a 5-song EP released by Glory Kid Ltd. entitled Marketable Skills, released on December 18, 2015.
The tracks on this extended-play are well-arranged; the record races out of the gate with “We Obey the Laws of Thermodynamics,” a song that instantly hooks in the listener. Despite having multi-faceted song structure that does not stick with a single pace for more than 30 seconds at a time, congruous threads run through each passage, making for a cohesive and attention-grabbing opener. Acting like a bookend to Marketable Skills is closer “The Patron Saint of Architecture.” Closely mirroring the songwriting dynamism of the opener with dissonant guitars and an unobtrusive-but-propulsive rhythm section, it is an excellent way to close out the short album.
The lyrics on Marketable Skills may seem like gruff but well-annunciated non-sequiturs to those on the outside, but the EP is in fact a powerfully emotional outing. Over the course of just a few years, Wagner lost both of his parents, and the flood of feelings that accompany personal loss is unmistakable in these songs. These feelings are most obviously and effectively expressed on “Equivalent Lands,” the record’s penultimate track. It is impossible to miss the heaviness when the song breaks down and Wagner sings “I know you won’t trust me / Minus all the process / Haven’t seen the worst of me / Just the processing / I’ve got it backwards / Think you might have misheard / I know you won’t trust me / Minus any atrophy / Haven’t seen the worst of me / Just the processing fees / Think you’ve got it backwards / Think you might have misheard” – each line more emotional than the one that came before it.
Marketable Skills’ biggest strength is its balance of melody and hooks with aggression and dissonance. When “Hog-Morse” begins with lightly-distorted, palm-muted chords, it almost seems like Slow Code is going to break into an “Ice of Boston” style pop song. But then Wagner’s brooding vocals come over the mix, guiding melodic guitar riff into a darker place before it blooms into a gorgeous arpeggio. This is the sort of album that can appeal to a wide range of music fans. Hardcore, post-hardcore, post-punk – whatever you want to label Slow Code as, they are an exciting and promising addition to the Seattle music scene.
Like most Wagner-fronted projects, Slow Code maintains a workman-like attitude to performing live. They have several dates lined up in the Pacific Northwest over the next few months, check out their blog for more info. Find Marketable Skills at the Glory Kid Ltd. Store, available in cassette tape or digital form