Birthquake | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Born Again: Salt Lake City's Birthquake are not your mother’s mathematics.


Birthquake are their mother’s mathematics. Scott Whitaker hunkers down, neck of bass in one fist, stick of chalk in the other. It is summer. It is dusk, and you are behind the buildings with a cold beer in your hand. It’s desert-summer-night-warm and beyond the cars in the pay lot to the west, the sun moves to the back of the city and you and the six or eight or nine dozen others on the pavement and the rooftops and the bike saddles watch Birthquake. Scott Whitaker, on the asphalt in front of the band, writes in long, proud letters: Thank You.

Then Whitaker is up and sprawl-legged, facing his brothers—Nick Whitaker is eyes-low and with arpeggios, counting the pebbles in the tar; Matt Whitaker is head-back and then a twitch at the snare and then a swing at the high hats. “Drip-chirp” sounds an electrified underwater headstock and the bass grumbles. The cymbals build and the kick-drum pumps and the chord and the melody and the beat are off and what a thing it is, to be young in the evening in the desert in the summer singing along to a song without words.

That was months ago. Birthquake are figures of periodicity, and Rejoice the Noise! is Birthquake’s present document. Sequence, chiasmus, alternation and envelope are all executed on Rejoice the Noise!. Melody on Rejoice the Noise! is fleeting, as fleeting as an ex-flautist or a guitar variation or a choral shout: “Que Cuuuullllllooooo!” and suddenly there you are again with Birthquake and everyone else in a parking lot back of the whole city beneath a rippling July evening sky.

Rejoice the Noise! is riffs and rhythms and their respective grammars unfolding in the time/space of the record’s sound-stream. Rejoice the Noise! is its own narrative, and melody is its soundtrack. Melody enters the record at moments requisite of a particular affect, as an underscoring flourish, like chalk on asphalt: the first bars of the guitar solo on “Farewell, Fare thee Well, Well?,” the cadenced punctuation of “I love you brother,” the first and second time through the flute line of “Que Culo.”

This is not a new strategy—foregrounding rhythm, repetition, cosmopolitan chord voicings and polyrhythms over melody and textual content in guitar-based post-rock—especially for three young men who came to music through punk-rock and hardcore in a DIY context. The middle-class and college-enrolled (or college-dropped-out) of the Midwest have, finger and thumb, tapped along on their cans of Old Style and Grain Belt in however many basements, community halls, and watering holes with the same strategies since the mid ’90s, even before the The Fucking Champs and Oxes and Hella and Battles and on and on. Birthquake swim in that current, and the gestures and postures and authorities of those bands before them inform the structures of the trio. And Birthquake are now a trio—winds player Mark Herrera recently left the project; three Whitakers remain. Hopefully, Herrera didn’t take with him the densely voiced reed-chords and textural touches that do such fine variegating work on Rejoice the Noise!.

It is significant that the Birthquakers are brothers: Birthquake make masculine music, not male-chauvinist music. Masculine themes are constructed brick by brick, variations wrestle and rough-house one with another, riffs and rhythms are objects manipulated along with the other objects existent in the field of the song. In fact, the songs are decidedly not macho. It’d be tricky work to find the slimmest doric shade on Rejoice the Noise!. But somehow in this position away from machismo, Birthquake’s music is all the more masculine—like monks playing soccer, like elders on P-day, like Ian McKaye. This is music by which one can strut within the highly ritualized protocol of the American DIY Rock Music Event. This is music that brings about smiles and releases energy in a positive way and offers the opportunity of a banging good time while doing little harm and maybe shaking a leg or two.

Birthquake quake best in the inscape between iteration and excessive repetition. On Rejoice the Noise! this inscape is achieved often—not always, but often. Maybe that is where empathy and community emerge, in the inscape between iteration and habit. Either way, Birthquake brings about a sum greater than that of its individual histories, be those histories musical, familial and/or otherwise.

The individual histories of the Brothers Whitaker, their Brotherhood, and Birthquake are bound up through sublimation with the condition of the Salt Lake Valley, which is more a condition than it is a fixed geography. Maybe that is your condition, too, the condition of the Salt Lake Valley, as I think likely it is mine. This is serious stuff. Birthquake’s Rejoice the Noise! is a field of action wherein synthesis presents culture, community, brotherhood, individuals. In this, Rejoice the Noise! is singular.

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Friday, Dec. 18, 7 p.m.

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