[sic] Magazine

The Bitters – East General

Much has been made of The Bitters ‘ grotesque choice of artwork. Judging by the cover alone is rarely wise, or so the saying goes, but if we were to do just that, East General would be an ugly dissection of influence, a macabre study of power and a shop window-style exercise in shock. The truth, of course, is a little less definite.

Essentially a Toronto-nian two-piece, Aerin Fogel , along with her crackling wail, is paired with Fucked Up ‘s Ben Cook and his pained drawl. Together, their choppy bass and punkish clattering bubble under lo-fi guitar repeats, a template that “Nurtured Disease” laces with grungy undertones, and that “Nails In The Coffin” partners with sparse drums to align the sound with that of Zola Jesus and their debut’s stately fuzz.

More interesting however is “No Anchor”. Cleaner, and more indicative of the band’s self-styled “cave-pop”, it is rife with 60s girl-group harmonising, considered jangles and skittish tempos providing welcome surprise amid militaristic support from the drums. Fogel’s surging vocal is the incontestable star on tracks like “Impatient As Can Be” and “The New Real Way” and she launches it around the latter’s open spaces like a rabid Siouxsie Sioux . Perhaps, as the track dissolves into a long outro of fizzy guitar licks, Fogel is considering a change in band focus – Aerin and the Bitters has a certain ring to it, does it not?

Seemingly short a few rpm of a full spin, “Beggar” is entirely dirgeful, drowning in strangles of fuzz until Cook’s vocal contribution clears the air, but in truth provides little total direction. The overly lengthy “I’m Feelin’ Good” is the murkiest of all East General has to offer, dredging itself through depths of grungy fuzz and uncalculated twangs and groans. Whereas, “East” houses a surprising sax solo and rich backing vocals.

Bringing to mind the mild Gothabilly of Golden Triangle , the angular and Cramps -like aggression with which the instrumental “Bitters Bust” hits is impressive as it descends into sirens of feedback and minimal snares.

East General’s highlight “Travelin’ Girl” is high on girl-group vocal spirals and it reprises that strangling guitar effect from “Beggar”, twinning it with rattling, scratchy echoes. These give way to a forlorn psychedelic aside which ultimately returns to crash to a exciting finale. And, as a result, it’s their most effectively rough, yet polished, pop sample since the standout “Warrior” landed from their 2009 debut EP Wooden Glove.

So, whilst all may not be quite as it first seems, East General, it turns out, is sufficiently sweet at its heart to temper the wanton freak show proffered in its place. If the autopsy had only been less sweeping, perhaps we could have seen it more clearly.

Advised downloads: “No Anchor” and “Travelin’ Girl”.

East General is out now on Mexican Summer .