The Fist and the Laurels

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During the mid-'90s, the short-lived Speedking released four nearly impossible-to-find 7"s, toured with Six Finger Satellite and June of 44, and quickly disbanded. But the 2002 release of The Fist and the Laurels, a two-disc anthology including the New York City band's previously unreleased full-length as well as their 7" output, proves Speedking to be one of the great acts of the '90s and the leader in the return of no wave's danceable guitar thrash. The group, headed up by DFA and Plantain Studios owner James Murphy, laid the groundwork for bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Liars, and Whirlwind Heat by combining the aggressive, street-level avant-garde of Sonic Youth with Slint textures and a trashy, hypnotic focus on dance noise not seen since the early no wave days of James Chance & the Contortions. The first disc -- the full-length album -- would have been one of the defining independent releases of the late '90s had it come out upon its completion. Moog and electronic flourishes on tracks like "What Is a Mason" and "Maximum Teen Travel" brand this as progressive and intense no matter what year it was released. On "Yi Ma" and "Put Me Against the Wall," Chet Sherwood shouts like Thurston Moore crossed with D. Boon and the Liars' Angus Andrew over grinding, relentless guitars. Bassist Miriam Maltagliati alternately coos ("Get the Dogs") and screams ("Maximum Teen Travel"), setting up Speedking as a girl/boy punk band in the tradition of Sonic Youth. "Hearts and Flowers," actually one of the less-harsh cuts, masterfully matches funk with electro-punk for a seriously dance-worthy four minutes of inebriated rock screed, only to be followed by the somber "Trans/Registr Now," which eerily echoes the atmospheric experimentation of Joy Division. The 7" songs on disc two show the evolution of the band, from the scratchy, Jon Spencer-esque, gutter punk funk of "Mononucleosis" to the Unwound noise assault on "Sway" and the ominous Minutemen dynamics of "Spy King." Even on these tracks, the band seems tight, immediate, and unstoppable. Unfortunately, The Fist and the Laurels is the entirety of Speedking's work, but the record is incredible, simply a gift to the world.

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