Upon release of Friend Collector’s debut album – featuring John Carroll graduate Gregory Dembeck – and on the eve of Friend Collector’s performance at CODA Records in Bel Air on Saturday night (the first time Dembeck returns to his hometown to play with New Flesh/FC for an official performance), here is a look back at the New Flesh “Safe Skin” album from September 2009.
First off is a disclosure and a review from my archives of the New Flesh’s “Safe Skin,” written originally in September 2009 after aquiring a CDR of the recording that was going to the presses for a November release. Gregory Dembeck handed it off to me while I was record shopping and he was working at Sound Garden in Baltimore. It was a celebratory moment with a friend I had met a few years back, when we worked together at Record and Tape Trader’s “punk store'” (that’s how their corporate office viewed their wayward store at the time) in Bel Air. We had found we shared a strong mutual interest in Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth and Ornette Coleman. Dembeck in high school loved and followed the New Flesh, took pictures at shows and some tours. He became their primary guitarist a few years later when Danny Propert left the band. I listened fifty or more times over a week, took a break, and listened again and was compelled to put my thoughts down on my music website, and waited and waited. Few have heard this record. The rest is history, and present.
The New Flesh “Safe Skin”
Quick fire shimmering staccato electric guitar riffs burn through the haze, before catapulting drums and bass lock into hardcore rips and snarls, and punishing chords hurtle into terrifying quiet screams from the underbelly. Is this the shape of jazz punk to come, as Ornette Coleman and the Refused foreshadowed, or as Jimi Hendrix asked “is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?” It is f***ing today, and it may not be what John Entwistle heard when he named his solo album “Smash your Head Against the Wall”, but this is the pulverising smashback.
It is the fiercest suite of music – for nineteen minutes with half second breaks every couple minutes or so until the end of the aggro blissed out six minute outtro – I’ve heard. It’s the New Flesh from Baltimore – live – no overdubs. Their third proper, an EP achieving the rare feat of capturing their ferocious live sound on a new and vital set on vinyl (Human Conduct Records).
Jaw dropping drums (Rick Weaver) swing from hardcore to hardbop, breaking into rythms with muscular bass (Jason Donnells/vocalist), somehow holding down shelter from the billowing clouds of chaos and noise mushrooms from the pair of guitars (Gregory Dembeck/vocals and Brian Dubin). Psychedelia urban guerrilla style – industrial, throbbing gristle and dark magus, the colors of the rainbow in multi shades of grey and in memorium of red. Redemption of the blood loss.
It may leave a bunch of field hippies with black sclera zombie wakes, for lucky others it will thrust them to unexplored intergalactic realms. As Thomas Pynchon writes, “Flip rode the freak waves he’d found not so much out of insanity or desire for martyrdom as in true stone indifference, the deep focus of a religious ecstatic who’s been tapped by god to be wiped out in atonement for the rest of us.” If you enter the inferno, the dance will heal at least for the night as the New Flesh are listening to each other, responding to our fears, traveling at warp speeds in the red. – Sept 5 2009
Some bad business decisions and a wayward drummer led to the disillusionment and breakdown of Baltimore’s greatest punk band, hardcore at least. Double Dagger pulled through to probably take that crown. Then again, both leading in attitude and ethos, one hardcore underbelly and the other joyous clashian celebration. Forget that silly crown BS. Two stories in how to do things and what not to do.
“Safe Skin” may have been the New Flesh’s opus. It was the 2nd chapter. The first, with founding member Danny Propert on guitar was City Paper’s Baltimore’s best band, hardcore blasts of pig f*** punk, 2 albums (the lauded Parasite, and Vessel), bunch of 7’s and some notorius combative tours. Propert left, and Dembeck officially joined and helped guide the second chapter, releasing a cdr of live and studio stuff with Propert, Dembeck and guests, before creating “safe skin”, a hardcore pig f*** of art chaos touching on interstellar tones.
But it was sabatoged by either DIY stubborness, or necessity, or a combination, and what Sean Gray (Fan Death Records), a New Flesh fan (note- Fan Death Records was not involved), sums up as “misfortune” and “typical New Flesh bad luck”. The first pressing was flawed, there was a clicking sound that wasn’t supposed to be there. Had to be repressed. Money was lost. Pressing and distribution was then split among about 6 labels to share funding. Then a typical committee breakdown happened. Nobody took charge, nobody in the press received advances, and it was left floating in dark space. Three or so months after release, the City Paper answered an email of mine wondering why it was ignored. Their reviewers had no idea it was released.
Along with no real tour, the other problem was it was a split. Splits are naturally devalued. That may be alright for early infancy releases, but The New Flesh deserved better. They deserved a one sided 12 inch with a blank slab. Like “We laid it out in twenty minutes. Its a masterpiece, take it.” About a year or so later, one night at Ottobar, in a quiet, wistful tone, Jason stated to me “it was our opus.” Big talk, but it was backed up, and he was simply stating the truth.
A sad finale to a great band. They left it all out on that. When things ended, it seemed continuance wasn’t even a discussion. It felt like the end and it was. Gloriously f***ed.
Rick Weaver put out a wonderful Band like album with Ruined Frame, writing and playing guitar, he handed the sticks to local talent Nick Podgurski of Feast of Epiphany/Extra Life/Yukon). Weavers currently on tour with a new experimental project, Global Distance. Dubin went to Europe, Dembeck worked on his Tigers project and went to college. Donnells put out an ugly engaging garage album with Pfisters. And then formed a new band with Dembeck bringing in drummer Scott Russell.
Friend Collector “Friend Collector”
They called it Friend Collector. It is simply, great hammerin’ pigf***. More distinctive than the suite like nature of the Flesh’s “Safe Skin.” It is not a continuum. It is not The New Flesh. Donnells rythyms and vocals are familiar to an extent. And through him, it harkens back to the first chapter, like it did and does to thrash and Landed noise. FC moves forward on that base that helped influence drunkdriver and a generation of gutteral core.
Trash screams of frustration, anger, sex, torture and dirt are all here, and with FC, Donnells takes his vocals to new levels, seemingly beyond caterwauls. There’s more blankets of dissonance and sonic squalls from Dembeck, and Eric Smith, guitars sounding like a machine at times, gnashing and grinding us to powder. Russell is rock solid, and an amazing quick, forceful drummer. He’s nimble and pulverising and thrusts them into rockist avant spheres, and together, Collector delivers brainbombs and raises the terror quotient.
It’s loud, ugly and spits reality back in your face. They aren’t going to win many more friends than the Flesh did. A hardcore following who can take it and gain from it. A friendly name, sucks you in, and when I hear them, I think of the “Collector” – the John Fowles book. Being drawn, and suddenly ripped into a madman’s butterfly collection, nailed to a wall like a helpless speciman… nah…not really, yer not gonna die…yet. You’ll twist, dance in the flames, even laugh, abeit nervously, and come out alive and redeemed, ready to go forward, a bit stronger, better, in this ugly world.
Oh, and my copy is on glorius Raven purple swirl vinyl (assorted release), nice photograph of decaying Americana gracing the cover, a proper release. It appears things are in good hands. It’s available at yer local record store and through Russell’s label Terra Firma.