Cavernous and cacophonous, the A-Frames' third album and Sub Pop debut, Black Forest, delivers more of the trio's theatrically doomy, witty art-punk. The nuclear fallout paranoia and Nazi/Teutonic flirtations on the album hark back to the attempts of '70s and '80s punks to shock the system, and like their forebears, the A-Frames find the fun in death, destruction, and nihilism, albeit with an even more tongue-in-cheek spin. Erin Sullivan's deadpan vocals and snotty lyrics ("One-way mirror on the wall/Who's the loneliest of them all?") aid and abet the band's chugging, clanking mix of guitars, deep, deep bass, and electronics, but underneath the noise and chaos, there are strong, even catchy, songs. "Television microwave" becomes a surprisingly hard-to-shake hook on "Quantum Mechanic"; bassist Min Yee's vocals add a surprisingly poppy touch to "Death Train"; and the prickly, mischievous "Flies" feels kind of like a punky, only slightly less campy take on the horror a go-go of The Addams Family and Munsters theme songs. This uneasy balance between noise and pop gives the A-Frames, and Black Forest, a unique tension: you keep waiting for an onslaught of noise, or a strong melody, that never quite comes. However, this tension makes the band distinctive, and the A-Frames use it cleverly throughout the album. "Eva Braun" is pretty, in a lumbering, zombie-like way, and "Memoranda"'s undeniable poppiness is undercut by atonal lead guitars. On the flip side, Black Forest ends with two of its harshest tracks: the thrashy "Negative" and "Black Forest III," the culmination of a theme that gets nastier, clankier, and more nightmarish each time it returns, are examples of the A-Frames' retro-futuristic squall at its finest. Black Forest is a little less scuzzy and raw than the band's earlier work, but it passes the test: the later at night and the louder you play it, the better it sounds.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares