“Death speaks the truth, but it’s imagination that she lacks…”
There’s a moment on In Humor and Sadness, the début album by ‘68; where you can hear an amp finally giving up the ghost and power down. It just snuffs right out near the end of 04. R, cutting out in a pop-of scrawling, mangled feedback, whilst vocalist and guitarist Josh Scogin manages to strangle one last cry from it during its death rattle. This is what In Humor and Sadness is all about – it’s about pushing things to the limit – pushing them until they snap and pushing yourself to see how much punishment you can take.
Reportedly during recording, Scogin just turned up at the studio with a bunch of songs – drummer Michael McClellan didn’t have a clue what he was going to play, having never heard the songs before, so the duo just decided to wing it, no looking back. This gung-ho, overzealous attitude to the recording and creation of In Humour and Sadness is part of its overall charm and appeal. Opening track 01.R begins with a half-cut off scream that rolls nicely into rampant blast of distorted, harrowing noise-punk that glitches and writhes with wild spasmodic energy. “Settle down, we’re gonna die, it’s alright” drawls Scogin in a mock Deliverance-style accent during the breakdown, which then makes way for a meandering, almost prog-rock assault of deep, wild-guitar jamming, mangled chords and shrieking feedback, held up by McClellan’s scatter-gun drum patterns.
This is gums-bleeding rawness stretched over 34 minutes of scything, cathartic blues-punk debauchery..
Throughout this album, Scogin really does get to show off the true power of his vocal chords. His voice is more volatile than any instrument and boy can he let rip.Take 02.E for example – his voice changes from a slurred, sheepish drawl to a paint-scrapping screech of malevolence. The stop-start and erratic nature of this track, not to mention the eerie interludes that have a weird spaghetti western vibe (a nod to First from One Wing perhaps?), which are spliced with the jarring, screeching guitar wails and amp-wrecking riffage.
The renamed Third Time Is A Charm appears next (which featured on the Midnight EP) , simply titled 03. G; and is all the better for its makeover. The grunge, blues-rock scrape is still present and the inclusion of guest vocalist Bart Balboa (Birds In Row) gives the track new, scathing life. The gang vocals over McClellan’s muted drumming, coupled with the squealing guitar improvisation just adds more weight to this very rasping, raw snarl of Jon Spencer-worshipping, hip-thrusting scribble. The cocky swagger of 05.E and even Scogin’s distorted voice feels very Jack White in execution, bringing to mind The White Stripes battering through a Nirvana cover, completed by blink-and-you’ll-miss-them malfunctions in the matrix; random mis-matched guitar noise, what sounds like a split-second burst old vaudeville music and mangled keys all start to bleed through.
There’s a vibe of Los Angeles’ The Bronx on 06. T – notably Scogin, who does his best Matt Caughthran impression; spouting the words “over thought, undersold, I have sung every song I know” in that similar, strangulated rapid-fire, throaty aggression and fucking powering through the first minute of this track. The gnarled, snappy punk rock is broken apart by the splintering guitar squeals that stain 06. T to the very core – you have to feel sorry for Matt Goldman’s (producer) kit and amps; they’ll perhaps never be the same again. What sound like church bells and even a violin begin to seep through the caterwaul of this twisted coda and Scogin even manages to whisper the words “it was perfect” before the last riff hits home.
The huge stadium rock theatrics of 07. N bring to mind the grandeur and pomposity of Harvey Milk’s The End – spiralling and howling with colourful, magical intensity, whilst 08. O (Three Is a Crowd, also from Midnight) is a see-sawing earworm of shredding, punk rock aggression, droning blasts of raw power and disjointed, furious cymbal splashes. In contrast to this, the warm, buzzing whisky-sounds of 09.T, have a back-porch folk vibe to them and some wonderful lyrics in the form of “If they take your crown away, is that really all that makes you king?” Like an illusion, cracks start to appear as the minimal set up begins to break apart, heralding the introduction of tape loops, glitch-ridden passages of noise and Scogin’s voice becoming a tongue-tied, smothering, repeating mumble. It’s as if Trent Reznor stumbled in halfway through and started messing about with the switches and dials.
Final track, 10. . is an oddball mismatch of darkness and quirks, emphasising the free-flowing and experimental nature of this recording and set up. What begins as quite a savage, raw-barrage of noise-rock and aggressive screams, starts to fracture out into a swarming, twist of spaced-out grunge and amp-damaging fuzz that eventually winds down to Scogin croaking through the words “here I am, all the stars are aligned...” and it’s fucking creepy, as is the sudden and abrupt cut-off ending.
This is gums-bleeding rawness stretched over 34 minutes of scything, cathartic blues-punk debauchery. The very nature of ’68’s unpredictable attack on music means that In Humor and Sadness is an utterly captivating, devastating and entertaining experience that will keep you guessing.