Ruin Everything! (2005)
From the anonymous thirteen-year-old disparaging Citizen Kane on the IMDB boards to obese basement-dwellers trading blows on 4chan over Maxim’s Hottest Woman 2012, there are hundreds of thousands of wars raging at this moment. One of the classics, and my personal favorite, is the Holy War of Dexterity, a.k.a the question of which gives music more value: technical prowess or raw passion? We Versus the Shark are obviously not the first band to bridge a middle ground between these arguments, but they did manage to foreground themselves at the front of a regional cult movement in brainy, punky math-noise. On Ruin Everything!, they began building their sound from the ground up, the beginning of their fusion of complexity and sloppiness.
Technical Prowess: Guitars. Two of them, Tron-racing against each other in a fury of tapping, loopy angular riffs, and a foot always near the distortion pedal. Opening track “You Don’t Have to Kick It” spins between quiet, spindly moments and raucous bursts of wild dance grooves. Every instrument is performing at top quality. Barely-structured “I Am Destined For Greatness” has the guitars spinning around, stopping, slowing down, only to snap into place at the last minute for Jeffery “Dammit” Tobias to shout at you. The drums range from nonmusical chaos to dance-punk in a flurry of time signatures that change without warning. This is music written for and by music nerds.
Raw Passion: The aggression. Ruin Everything! is never angry per se, but it’s louder than hell. “No Flint No Spark” and “This Graceless Planet” juggle that Dischord-perfected line of musically interesting and unlistenably insane, like Q and Not U or the D-Plan on full volume. Samantha and Luke (guitars) and Tobias (bass) are all contributing vocals, trading gang shouting, screaming and awfully purty singing, oftentimes in the same song. “Ten Uh Clock Heart Uh Tack” puts Samantha’s delicate singing voice over the chaos of Luke’s distorted shrieks. Some of the album even has that old-school Modest Mouse feel, like teenagers in a garage out in the Midwest, but with keyboard mashing and handclaps strewn around like casualties.
Instructions: Combine, puree, serve chilled, spray whipped cream in your mouth, spray your house in gasoline, burn it to the ground, turn up the volume, try to keep up with the rhythms enough to dance.
EP of Bees EP (2007)
Hello Sir Records, based between Athens, Georgia and Greensboro, North Carolina (rep!), have published many similar-sounding bands like Cinemechanica, So Many Dynamos, Ho-Ag, The Bronzed Chorus and Ahleuchatistas, but WvtS became the true darlings of the scene due to their aforementioned chemically sound amalgam math and punk, and also because of their personality. Their live shows were wild and full of movement, banter and on-point performance. EP of Bees EP, as the title suggests, is an EP, and is also whimsical and silly. The album art features the phrase “We wanted a new government, not odd time signatures.” Though not much is new with the core sound of the band, We Versus the Shark seem to have put into this release the most of that very personality that popularized them.
The songs, while still totally insane, are separate in their niches: “I Am a Fantastic Battle” is deafening and jumpy distorted punk, predicting the sound of their final album; “The Lament of Sue Richards” has Samantha’s clean vocals at the forefront, somehow sleeker and tamer with its infectious hook while still switching rhythms and filling the crevasses with crunch; “We Versus the Inevitability of Death” is the Hello Sir edition of Talking Heads, percussion-driven and meandering with a spiraling buildup to the most batshit WvtS moment they ever recorded. “(After)life Things” is the most danceable and has the most synth/key effects, nailing a more mature version of their previous album and hinting at some Pretty Girls Make Graves moments. We Versus the Shark are a handful for some. Too loud, too unpredictable, etc. A four-track EP might be the perfect dosage of the Athens sound for someone like, say, my mother. Parent or not, this requires your full attention.
Dirty Versions (2008)
These are the dirtiest versions. As if the band weren’t piercing and sonically challenging enough, here’s an Albini-esque production job and total rehaul of the sound you used to cherish. Dirty Versions, save for the droning lament of “Dogs” and the first half of “Mountaineering,” doesn’t quit shoving itself down your throat for forty-eight minutes. Their sloppiness has reached near-McLusky levels (and equally tongue-in-cheek), their artiness somewhere in the later-career Fugazi range. The surface sound is fuzzier, more dissonant, and yes, dirtier. Dance punk has been cast into the sea, and out of it has been drawn a Melvins/Big Business ass-kicking rhythmically-dense sludge-bucket.
“Mr. Ego Death” brains you with its pounding drums and bassline, with an atonal chorus of indecipherable lyrics and the sound of every instrument being slammed to the ground at once. “Gothic Ya’ll” has a filthy southern sound accompanied by a keyboard hook and vocal-trading galore, one of their absolute heaviest. Thunderous fill-centric drums keep “Keep It Wolf” rolling around over the sharp dueling guitars and is relentless in how much it switches on you. The instruments in “I Am the President of the World” sound like they’re evacuating a burning building and stumbling all over one another. This may be their most technically sound album, but it conceals this beneath waves of harsh feedback, anti-harmony, and the party-attitude of someone raised by wolves. Somehow, it’s still undeniably We Versus the Shark, still a calculator-disco of dance and deafening. But Dirty Versions isn’t just the sound of a band losing their minds, it’s a fully realized step in the most fitting direction for its authors. From the outside, this is the album that the band were made to craft, and though I hate to see such a phenomenal act disband, I have to ask myself: how could they have topped this, such a grinding, righteously dirty record? I’m perfectly content with not knowing.