Philly trio The Cloth started kicking around last summer to hear their Thee Facebooks page tell it, but the wretched truth is that these three dudes have been around for a while in acts like Count von Count, Holy Dirt and Pagan Wolf Ritual, and I’ve taken that to be the reason why, when I first popped in Side Turtle of their five-song self-titled demo, it seemed The Cloth had an immediate idea of what they wanted to sound like. The three-piece is comprised of guitarist Nate Jaffe, bassist Tom von Count and drummer Jake van der Linde — von Count and Jaffe both contribute vocals — and their first release is made up of five short, crisp noise rockers that, on songs like “Touched” and “Leech Farmer,” call to mind some of later Akimbo‘s flirtations with melody and mid-period Kylesa‘s thicker-toned sludge grooves along with a grown-up-hardcore raucousness.
The band included a CD, and the tracks “Touched” and “Landsickness”‘ have made their way onto Bandcamp, but I didn’t want to listen to those first because it felt like cheating. When I popped the yellow cassette in my car’s player, the gnarl was immediate. I don’t know how much of the material was recorded live, but the instruments certainly feel that way, and raw as the production is — one imagines if you’re capturing an aggressive sound, Philly in February is a good place and time to do it — the demo’s punkier roots come through even in slower moments like von Count‘s bass starting up “Landsickness.” There’s no shying away from creating a tension and even less from answering it back with thrashing fuckall. The pure 90-seconds of punk on “I Smell a Rat” make no pretense of dynamics, but even then, Jaffe finds room for some surprisingly airy post-rock notes to float over. Round it out with the grunge churn of “Skinless” (the longest cut at a sprawling 3:43), and the tonality proves even more complex.
Both Side Turtle (pictured above) and Side Not Marked repeat the same program, and I have to agree with the advice of the inside liner, which devotes an entire panel to the words “Play Loud.” At the risk of spoiling it for anyone who might chase down a copy, The Cloth end each side of the tape with a sampled clip of Bill Hicks talking about the Kennedy assassination and American Gladiators. Not exactly timely, but the context applies as much as anything Hicks ever said did, and by that I mean here’s a white dude in a culturally privileged position with no critique of how that culturally privileged position allows him to critique the culture and patriarchy that put him in that privileged position in the first place; not that he should be appreciative, just that he’s all anger and no concrete challenge to or expressed awareness of his own place within the establishment he’s angry at. Still, I’ll take it over Dennis Leary, though if it was between Hicks and Kurt Vonnegut, who the band quote elsewhere, I fail to see the need for a choice at all.
But that’s on Hicks and not The Cloth. Point was that The Cloth set themselves up on their debut tape (hopefully the first of many releases on a variety of formats) with not necessarily a wide sonic scope, but a rawness and a natural sounding dynamic from which to build on subsequent outings. I wouldn’t ask more of a demo than that, and the more I go back to these five tracks, the more I hear in them. I don’t know how many copies they’re making, but if you can hunt one down, it might prove worth your while.