Elliott Smith likely cringed to remember that before his all-too-precious reinvention of himself he was trying to rock out in a Fugazi/Helmet vein. That's not because the results were bad, though -- if derivative, Dead Air is still a mighty fine debut album, though arguably more credit goes to the band's true creative touchstone, fellow singer/guitarist Neil Gust. Openly gay but not making it his creative raison d’être like, say, Pansy Division, Gust and company tear things up with full-on energy, while the co-production on the part of the band and Portland legend Thee Slayer Hippy is crisp and focused. There's a perhaps inevitable casting of grunge over everything given its 1993 genesis, but instead of sprawl the emphasis is on tautness, vocals rough but not whined, more Hüsker Dü and Mission of Burma, say, than Black Sabbath or Black Flag. Gust's knack for anthemic, empowering choruses infused with open emotional passion makes the Fugazi comparison in particular appropriate, almost as if on his own he's fused Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto in one body. At one point, on the wonderful "Can't Be Touched," he even sounds like an aggro Michael Stipe. The songs don't waste time -- 14 in 37 minutes -- and steer away from easy singalong approaches in favor of slightly more complex headbanging with a brain and heart. "Stray," re-recorded from an earlier single, sounds fantastic, just brawling with both fierce energy and close-to-the heart empathy, not to mention a great chorus. "Bottle Rocket" is a definite winner, with some great call-and-response vocal work and a steadily building verse-into-chorus structure that's fierce without falling prey to incipient emo clichés. Every so often there's some great flash on the guitars -- check out the solo on "Dirt" -- while the rhythm section does well enough (drummer Tony Lash in particular).
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett