Gray Matter

Food for Thought

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Gray Matter's debut album actually originally surfaced on a different label, but the Dischord connection was there from the start, with Don Zientara engineering and Ian Mackaye helping to co-produce. Guitarist Mark Haggerty and drummer Dante Ferrando had already made noise with Iron Cross in the early '80s, and with guitarist/singer Jeff Turner and Steve Niles on bass to fill out the lineup, the result was enjoyable, edgy D.C. hardcore. Turner's singing, gentler than many of his contemporaries but not by any stretch "emo" as classically defined via Rites of Spring, nicely balanced out his and Haggerty's riffing. What's especially nice about Food for Thought is how it is catchy without being, say, yet another Ramones knockoff -- it's not so much classic pop as quietly anthemic punk, a bit like what Dag Nasty would also try doing around the same time. Check out the tempo-changing surge of "Oscars Eye," building up to one miniature explosion after another, or the hilarious commercial sample into the darkly rampaging music of "Caffeine Blues." There's an ear for new wave/U.K. post-punk here and there in the crisp arrangements, not quite Gang of Four or Joy Division per se but bearing signs that Gray Matter took some cues here and there. If Ferrando's drums sometimes sound a touch hollow (perhaps the unavoidable result of Dischord's mid-'80s aesthetic), the sense of depth in the recording is quite striking otherwise, guitars suddenly echoing away or coming through with a full-bodied roar. The most inspired touch comes at the end -- tackling one of the Beatles' most outré songs, Gray Matter rips through "I Am the Walrus" with high-speed élan, even recreating some of the chaotic found-sound chaos at the end in its own way. It's a bravura performance and a fine way to wrap up.