Out of the Box #3
OUT OF THE BOX #3
Pg.99 / Process Is Dead – Document #6 (2001)
I think I can get one more of these out before the year ends, so let’s go with one with interesting packaging.
As I’ve mentioned before, I was a big fan of screamo as a teen. My interest in atypical hardcore groups like Refused and Snapcase made me an early fan of Boy Sets Fire and Thursday, and I quickly dug into the wider Tri-State screamo scene. I missed out on Saetia, but Hot Cross were often playing at ABC No Rio and other DIY venues around the city. I went to college with the drummer of The Fiction, and later the bass player of Off Minor. I was at The Assistant’s last show in a rental hall in New Jersey. Neil Perry, Joshua Fit For Battle, A Day’s Refrain, and many others were never far from my stereo.
Even in this stylistically pluralistic scene, Virginia’s Pg.99 always struck a different chord. There were like 10 of them, two vocalists, two bass players, guys doing who knows what (noise musicians, I’d guess from today’s standpoint). On Jack Chuter’s Crucial Listening podcast, Liturgy’s Haela Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix compared them to a mixture of screamo and black metal, and while that element hadn’t been obvious to me at the time, in retrospect I can see what she means. Partly it’s the recording quality, but there’s also the tremolo guitar and the general aesthetic. But it sounds more like grindcore influence to me, though that’s just one element among many. Again, Virginia is far enough away from NY that the group could do their own thing, and Richmond, like many slightly isolated tertiary cities, always seemed to have its own scene with its own emphasis on originality (see such diverse artists as Avail, Prevaricators, GWAR, LaBradford, Ahnnu, and Ohbliv).
I can’t recall exactly when or how I first came across Pg.99, but it was almost certainly through their 7”s. My collection also include splits with Waifle, Majority Rule, City Of Caterpillar, and Circle Takes the Square, all other acts I was into at the time. I saw them play on at least two occasions I can remember, including in 2003 at a small festival in Connecticut alongside Pig Destroyer and City of Caterpillar and others, what may have been part of their farewell tour. I had been a big fan of Delaware’s Boy Sets Fire since ‘99, and discovered Waifle through BSF. Also from Virginia but closer to DC than Richmond, Waifle’s singer Brent Eyestone ran Magic Bullet Records, the small label that released BSF’s debut. (I’ll have to choose a Waifle record for a future installment, but for now I’ll just say their “breakfast violence” concept appealed to me as a concept, artistically and politically. I also dug that the label released a bootleg cassette of a hard to find Sunny Day Real Estate 7”.)
So I probably first heard Pg.99 as the flipside of Do You Need A Place To Stay?, their split 7” with Waifle, but soon enough acquired the other 7”s I mentioned above, as well as Document #8, one of their “full lengths” (obviously a flexible category), with a memorable cover. As should already be evident, most of their records simply bear the title Document #X, which feels most appropriate on Document #6. I’ll get to the music soon enough, but as I said at the outset, I wanted to focus on this one less for the music and more for the memorable packaging, with bubble wrap in lieu of a traditional sleeve. The record also includes a projector slide and a “case book” containing the liner notes, complete with coroner’s stamp. I likely acquired this record sometime in 2002 or 2003, maybe from the band but more likely from one of those distro dudes (it was always a dude) who would set up shop at the back of shows in New Jersey (and probably elsewhere but in my memory it was always Jersey). It took all my self-control to never pop any of the bubblewrap, and to this day I still find the packaging to be incredibly effective, conceptually interesting, and creatively in its simplicity.
Process is Dead made less of an impact, maybe because they were from Tennessee (and thus outside of the northeast US touring circuit I’d yet to venture beyond at that point) or maybe because this was their last released. Listening back now, I’m digging the drums, the changes in tempo throughout opener “Your Life, A Real Page Turner,” which is also the kind of sarcastic title that still makes me chuckle. I love that this kind of music can be basically consistently full blast and still feel dynamic due to the abrupt rhythmic changes. Chugging and octave riffs, breakdowns, and indecipherable screaming. The guitars and vocals are fairly conventional, but still interesting enough that I’m surprised this band didn’t make more of an impression on the scene. “Poison The Cake” is more of the same, probably the lesser of the two songs but noteworthy for its intro and drum parts, which while a bit sloppy are full of energy and creativity. Actually the bridge is pretty dope too, there are some nice guitar riffs, and a solid ending.
But as soon as “The Sobering Moment Of One Single Violin” begins, it’s clear that Pg.99 rise above the crowd. The twin vocals are distinctive, perhaps not miles away from the kind of thing the Blood Brothers would get more famous for a year or so later. Much more dynamic than the A-side, the energy is instantly infectious with a pummeling blast beat and distinctive vocals. There are at least five distinct parts within the first minute, the changes between parts become a bit slower, and the song gradually unwinds into quiet guitar arpeggios before the high tempo drums and screams return. There’s something so compelling about time signature and tempo changes on a dime, just totally beautiful chaos, yet absolutely fun at the same time. Buried in the mix some mumbled sung vocals, hard to hear but there. It’s less clear where one song ends and the next begins, but I think “You And Your Lumbering Body Of Death” begin with four snare hits just as the arpeggios of the previous track end, because “Goin' South,” the third and final track, is a complete departure, really just a coda consisting of a piano loop and some chimes. Quite a lot of range for four minutes of music.
So they are maybe an 8- or 9-piece here? I can’t really tell, but two vocalists, two bass players, at least three guitars, drummer, and noise guy. Did they need so many members? Musically speaking, not really. Folks often compare them to Godspeed, but Godspeed combine contrabass and electric bass, have different percussionists, multiple string players. I think Broken Social Scene is a more apt comparison, not sonically, but the spirit of more is more maximalism, the big sound and the chaotic energy that just can’t be replicated.