In State

We have no idea what “twee” is either, but as long as the critics are falling over themselves trying to find new ways to differentiate pop music into a thousand different genres, allow us to introduce you to EGGS – “proto-twee” if you will. This D.C. indie pop outfit pulled at heartstrings, soothed the soul, made room for a trombone, and managed to break up before SPIN could come up with a new sub genre for them. Forgive us for taking it upon ourselves. (Also available as part of Jade Tree’s retrospective CD, The First Five Years (JT1050)

1. Sexual Tension
2. In State
3. Fever

Andrew Beaujon: Vocals, Guitar, Organ
Evan Shurak: Bass, Vocals
Rob Christiansen: Drums, Guitar, Vocals
Additional Musicians:
Meredith Hostetter: Flute
Recorded November 1992
Released January 1993
Recorded at WGNS, VA
Engineered by Jeff Turner
Produced by Jeff & Eggs
Mastered by Michael Sarsfield at Frankford Wayne, NYC
Layout/Graphics by Andrew Beaujon

In State

We have no idea what "twee" is either, but as long as the critics are falling over themselves trying to find new ways to differentiate pop music into a thousand different genres, allow us to introduce you to EGGS – "proto-twee" if you will. This D.C. indie pop outfit pulled at heartstrings, soothed the soul, made room for a trombone, and managed to break up before SPIN could come up with a new sub genre for them. Forgive us for taking it upon ourselves. (Also available as part of Jade Tree’s retrospective CD, The First Five Years (JT1050)

Andrew Beaujon: Vocals, Guitar, Organ
Evan Shurak: Bass, Vocals
Rob Christiansen: Drums, Guitar, Vocals
Additional Musicians:
Meredith Hostetter: Flute
Recorded November 1992
Released January 1993
Recorded at WGNS, VA
Engineered by Jeff Turner
Produced by Jeff & Eggs
Mastered by Michael Sarsfield at Frankford Wayne, NYC
Layout/Graphics by Andrew Beaujon

1. Sexual Tension
2. In State
3. Fever

BITTER PILLS TO POP: Challenger’s Comforting Cynicism

The term "side project" bothers me. There’s something about the way the phrase makes whatever it’s describing sound more like a meaningless fling to scratch a temporary itch than it does a legit band.

Al Burian, a man who’s currently known for playing bass and singing in the Chicago band Milemarker and writing the zine Burn Collector (among other things), knows the annoying term all too well. And I’m guessing he’s been hearing it a lot lately, because with an already successful band on his resumé (Milemarker has maintained a loyal fan base since forming in 1997), Burian has begun to scratch yet another itch. Call it a side project if you want, but he calls it Challenger.

While taking a break from Milemarker last summer, Burian and his Milemarker bandmate Dave Laney decided to start a band, a fun band. So they recruited friend Timothy Remis to play drums, wrote some songs, recorded a demo, sent it to Jade Tree, got signed, and recorded a full-length record titled Give People What They Want in Lethal Doses.

Jade Tree released Give People What They Want on February 17, and it was greeted with a plethora of positive reviews in publications including Blender and the Onion. It’s both musically and lyrically bitter, with songs commenting on current events as well as failed relationships, sometimes at the same time. But while it possesses a raw, angry edge, there’s something about the record that’s also very playful. Maybe it’s because the attitude is unapologetically sour. The guitars have fun storming around lyrics like "Anakastic existence/Love?/It’s just an added expense and/this operation must downsize" in the song "Input the Output," which, as Burian’s notes on the Challenger website state, has an end chorus where "we’re all encouraged to yell and break things."

It’s punk rock, but it’s the kind of punk that existed before there were so many rules to follow. And while Burian and Laney shout out, "Congratulations on your phony matrimony/Here’s hoping that you evade the FBI/And I will try not to cry/When you come by to say goodbye forever/Goodbye forever/We’re never gonna see each other again," they’re calling out the bullshit with a grin. And as the listener, you smile too, because it feels good to let it all out.

To follow the record’s release, the band planned a spring tour. Unfortunately, Laney broke his collarbone in an accident while working as a bike messenger, forcing the band to cancel the scheduled dates. Since healing, though, Challenger has been all over, touring both the East Coast and Japan in the short time span of only a month and a half. And currently they’re touring the West Coast through June. Afterward, they’ll return to Chicago, record an EP for the European label Day After with the new lineup (which adds their publicist Jessica Hopper on bass and replaces Remis with Milemarker drummer Noah Leger), and then they hit the road yet again, this time for two months in Europe.

"I think it’s up to the musician to prove that a band isn’t a side project," says Burian, just 24 hours after returning home from the weeklong Japan visit. "On the one hand I guess I could be bothered by the term, but I can recognize it as necessary for identification purposes. The end result is sort of self-evident as to whether it’s something that someone’s doing to take care of an itch, or something that is more long-term."

And while Burian, like any average human, can’t see into the future, he’s pretty sure that Challenger is here to stay, at least for a while. Challenger allows him to do things Milemarker can’t, which he enjoys.

"The difference, on a purely technical level," he says with a chuckle, "is I get to play guitar. Challenger is also doing something that’s trying to be straightforward and unselfconscious. It’s nice to write a song in that structure. Milemarker tries to be more confrontational and it’s trying to not necessarily placate the listener. Their overall musical intents are opposite: Challenger is trying to go in the exact opposite direction."

But when it all comes down to it, the main reason for adding yet another helping to an already full plate is really not that complicated at all.

"I guess it’s just kind of…" Burian asks with a pause, "why not?"

Challenger’s Laney stays steadfastly independent

George W. Bush might be bad for the fate of humanity but he’s the best thing to happen to punk rock since sculpting gel. With a right-wing religious crusader in the White House, the American underground–in music as well as other creative fields–has just what any artistic movement needs to stay healthy: something to rebel against.

But Challenger’s Dave Laney isn’t taking much comfort from music-based anti-Bush movements like PunkVoter. "Bands have been taking a noticeably more political stance in the last year, and I think that’s good," says the singer-guitarist from his Chicago home. "But I’m not very psyched about the state of music in general. Maybe the politics of punk are getting more on the table but the ethics are getting covered up a lot more, with major-label packaging deals where bands are putting their records out on indies financed by majors. And very few people are caring about it."

Laney has steadfastly stayed independent. Both of his main musical projects, including the seven-year-old Milemarker and the new Challenger, have released their records on Jade Tree, a Chicago-based label unaffiliated with major corporations. The music of both acts has a political stance, and on Challenger’s debut Give the People What They Want in Lethal Doses this is apparent in fast and furious wake-up calls like "The Trojan Horse" and "Brand Loyalty". Taking aim at the instant-gratification mentality that marks American society, the disc’s 10 lethal tracks of guitar-based dynamite leave no question as to Challenger’s stance.

True to its name, the new band is giving Laney and fellow Milemarker members Al Burian and Noah Leger a workout. Though the songs are more straightforward than those of their other, more established group, the tunes are actually harder to play.

"They’re faster and not as droney, so I have to concentrate a little more," says Laney. "It’s been a long time since I started a new band and had to get up and play a set of entirely new songs. So getting used to everything means the shows are a little bit more held back than with Milemarker. It’s starting to change, though. The first shows were more rigid, but we’re loosening up."

Besides a difference in tempos, Challenger’s lineup strays from Milemarker’s in the addition of bassist Jessica Hopper and the absence of keyboardist and singer Roby Newton. Hopper also heads the firm that, until recently, has handled Jade Tree’s (and, hence, Milemarker’s and Challenger’s) PR for the last 10 years.

"Al and Jessica lived together for a long time, and she’s been a friend of ours, so it seemed pretty natural," says Laney, who is at the Brickyard with Hopper and crew Sunday (June 13). "She’s played in groups before, so it wasn’t like ‘You hold a pick like this.’ "

The singer and publisher–he recently put out the sixth issue of his free magazine MediaReader–says Challenger is also meant to be a little more accessible than Milemarker. "One of the ideas behind the lyrics on the record was to write more like anecdotes, though there is some depth there. I think sometimes, although I never really saw it, with Milemarker some of the songs might be too politically heavy-handed for people to get into. So with Challenger the message is there if you want it, and if you don’t you can just take the songs at face value."

Challenger [I]Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses[/I] Review

Some flack touted Give the People What They Want in Lethal Doses, by Chi-town’s Challenger, as "possibly the best record Jade Tree’s ever released" – a heavy statement, as a couple of my all-time faves are on J.T. Maybe that’s why I didn’t dive right into the album – hot air, however gently puffed, you know? So I thrust my chin out like an obstinate gorilla and refused to really like the album for a while. I thought of things I could call it in a review without really saying anything about it: Edgy. Angular. Maybe even the kiss of death: vaguely reminiscent of Fugazi. But you know what? This is the part in all of my overblown, self-obsessed maundering where I reach for transcendence with my greasy little paws: Challenger are none of those things, silly.

Their lyrics, of course, sealed the deal: "Anakastic existence. Love? It’s just an added expense and this operation must downsize," one of the singer guys screams – either Al Burian and Dave Laney. Lately (since, say, Buddy Holly did "Peggy Sue") love songs seem played-out, and I sort of dug the crassness in the managerial talk – enough to look up "anakastic." Turns out, I think, he means "anankastic," as in "anankastic personality disorder," wherein a person "is preoccupied with rules, procedures and efficiency, is overly devoted to work or productivity, and is usually deficient in the ability to express warm or tender emotions." Give the People What They Want: the sound of alienation, the sound of trying to come across with the warm and tender in a world where everyone’s got a cable modem hooked up to their heart and information’s moving at a speed that’s just too fast for that old hunk of meat. Jarvik 7? Fuck that! We need full-on digital hearts, microprocessing – speed, speed, speed – you can keep that Fisher-Price shit. It’s dissonant, jagged – did I say edgy and angular? – it’s the human being lawnmower, as the MC5 said. "You’re always looking for somebody to tell you, ‘Hey, it’s all right if you want to spend the night,’ " Singerman sings on "This Is Only a Test," and he’s answered by a female voice in the next tune, "Brand Loyalty": "You’re great but it’s never going to work out between us…. After tonight, we’ll never be together again."

So it’s bleak, which is OK by me since I only had to reach for the dictionary once, and even then, the word was misspelled. Too many 50-cent words and an intelligent punk band with heart start sounding like Bad Religion – a Ph.D. dissertation with power chords. Even the fact that I noticed seems to speak of perfectionism bordering on anankastic personality disorder.

Challenger [I]Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses[/I] Review

Cram packed full of angular riffage and wild song structures, Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses proves to be an exciting and fiery debut from formerMilemarker men, Al Burian and Dave Laney. Having left socially-aware eclectichardcore behind for emotionally-tinged post-punk, Burian and Laney create a beautifully layered racket with hundreds of ideas fruitfully cascading into each other. To top things off, the alternation between sweet vocal harmonies and throaty shouts seems to be near perfect.

The influences of Husker Du and Fugazi can definitely be heard but Challenger are no mere copyists. Their music has been injected with a certain danceability which will undoubtedly have you jumping around like a mad-man. Another brilliant thing about this album which singles it out from the crowd is that the songs seem effortlessly glide into hard-hitting musical breakdowns, often providing an unexpected punch of punk fury to the gut. There is not much you can fault about this debut, the only slight criticism would be the lack tempo changes, experimenting with song speed would add another string to Challenger’s already complex musical bow.

The highlights of the album include catchy opener, Input the Output and the call and response of Brand Loyalty, both anthemic and brusque. The album gives the listener what they want in ten passionate bursts. Although they’ll be fighting off tough competition from the Bronx, Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses is contender for punk record of the year. Highly recommended.

Challenger [I]Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses[/I] Review

My first iteration of this review was fairly mixed. I wrote that Challenger’s debut was energetic at best, but mostly muddled and unspectacular. But a week later I’ve decided that somebody had just dropped valium in my Cheerios that morning, because Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses is already one of my favorite rock albums of the year. Challenger has a near-perfect blend of the best of yesterday’s punk and the most vigorous of ‘modern’ rock energies.

The first draft of this review started off with a little anecdote about the state of punk rock and what it’s become, especially in the last five years. Where Challenger connects to the sorry condition of this once-glorious style is that it hearkens back to the punk of a decade or two ago, yet all the while giving a listener the impression that they really are drawing honest inspiration from their punk godfathers instead of outrightly copying them. But being not a great fan of punk, my first few listens through Give People What They Want was almost forced; it was only over time that the record grew on me and also, served as an introduction to the passion and energy of what good, modern punk music can be.

There’s not a sleeper on this record. Each song features dual-guitar work that stuns with its ballistic energy and vocals that rage and soar and fit perfectly with the other pieces of Challenger’s musical make up. And despite their aged roots, their music never fails to stack up against all the modern post-punk/hardcore heavyweights of today in terms of energy and passion. Think Thrice or Thursday, but without the glossy sheen and blimp-sized choruses of the former or the trauma-stricken melodrama of the latter. Perhaps the middle section of the record begins to drag ever so slightly, but by the time you hit the eighth or ninth on this 10-song collection, they’ve reclaimed every ounce of their vitality and are charging like bulls to the finish. The penultimate “Crushed City” has a chanted mantra of “I’m thinking bad thoughts almost every night” that will staple itself to your brain for days upon days.

Further notes on Challenger: If the opportunity to see them live presents itself, seize it: the rawness and passion of this record promise a mind-fucking show. If at first you don’t take to it, keep listening. And keep your ears open for this band in the future.

Rating: 4.5/5

RIYL:

Bad Religion
Face To Face
Coheed & Cambria
Husker Du

Challenger [I]Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses[/I] Review

The kind of hardcore punk that Challenger revives on Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses originated on the West Coast in the early ’80s, at a time when the New York and U.K. punk scenes had long since converted to art-rock and new wave, and what had been passing for punk in L.A. tended to be didactic and thuggish. That’s when bands like Black Flag and The Minutemen opened up hardcore stylistically and thematically, forcing a wider variety of personal expression into the DIY ethos. The Chicago-based Challenger picks up on that sense of committed, plugged-in noisemaking on its debut album, a contender in 2004′s roaring, quasi-political, punk-savior pageant. (It joins previous winners At The Drive-In, Desaparecidos, and …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.) Co-founded by Milemarker guitarist-vocalist Dave Laney and bassist-vocalist Al Burian (with non-Milemarker drummer Timothy Remis), Challenger establishes its sound most clearly on "Blackouts," with its blaster riffs and unusually tuneful, precisely cadenced screaming. What They Want features plenty of pummeling and dissonance, but also moments when the guitars spiral around each other majestically, the lyrics describe mortal fear, and the vocals surge. The band’s comprehension of how personal politics influence everyday relationships means that Laney can make the line "It’s all right if you want to spend the night" (from "This Is Only A Test") sound like a threat, while the kiss-off "You’re great, but it’s never going to work out between us" (from "Brand Loyalty") sounds seductive. Though What They Want barely exceeds 30 minutes, its relentlessness can get tiresome, but Challenger’s charged descriptions of a world out of balance are undeniably powerful. The band’s straightforward eloquence peaks on "Unemployment," which contains an entire value system in the line "Hey man / it’s not about the money / it’s about getting what you deserve."

Challenger [I]Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses[/I] Review

This is pummeling, high-octane melodic hardcore, fleshed out with vocal harmonies, mildly tricky structures, and lyrics that addresses the state of the world (e.g. "We’ve got too much time on our hands / To handle the amount of time our hands are dangling by our sides"). There’s no small amount of passion here, a more-than-capable dynamism borne out of a digestion of Hüsker Dü and Minutemen records, and a wealth of melodic energy. However, while Challenger come across as a band for whom the word "emo" is equivalent to a categorical stake through the heart, it’s anyone’s guess why they’ve chosen to spend their entire debut CD pandering to that term’s every whim. For instance, when "Brand Loyalty" attempts the dissection of a "flawed relationship" dynamic by setting a deadpan boy/girl feud against a punchy, wriggly punk backdrop, the enduring impression is of a Dashboard B-side or a misjudged Rites Of Spring emulation by, say, Brand New.

Whatever’s lacking in originality, however, is more than made up for in delivery. The band, which features Milemarker’s Al Burian and Dave Laney, displays a devastating tightness, the album’s writhing energy underscoring their refusal to sit still. Not only that, but for a record composed entirely of anthemic punk stompers (the only moment approaching restraint being the brisk closer "The Trojan Horse"), it’s an unabashed triumph of brevity. It may be preaching to the converted, so to speak, but there’s enough here to ensure Challenger the loving audience of die-hards that this kind of unbridled energy rewards.

Challenger

So let me get it out of the way…

Milemarker!

There, I said it. Everyone is going to point it out, so I figure I should too… 2/3’s of Challenger is Dave Laney and Al Burian of Milemarker. But don’t think that little fact will play that largely into the sound of this band.

“…lately I’ve started going back and listening to Husker Du and the Minutemen.” That quote from Dave pretty much sums up the album. The trio (filled out by drummer Timothy Remis) play a version of the power pop punk of bands of old. I say “version” because it’s not as raw as what you remember. There is a certain amount of polish on this album, not to a fault, but it is there. The rough edges are there, but they are hidden under the production abilities of A.J. Mogis (who’s worked with The Faint and Cursive).

The hooks are wrapped with flypaper. Noisy guitars churn out power chord after power chord laden track. Each song pumps along in its own anthem/gang vocal glory. The deeper you get into the record the more you want to catch them live. It makes me feel 18 again… and not in an awkward, unsure way, but in a carefree and rebellious way.

To be honest, I wonder if a lot of the young scene today is going to get into this much. Maybe it’s the pessimist in me, but I just wonder if the high-energy punk of bands like Husker Du and Naked Raygun will strike the ears of the young that have been brought up in a horrible world where emo is the most “exciting” thing to happen in underground music.

Hopefully I’m wrong. Maybe some kid will pass up the new Thursday album and take a chance with Challenger. The album isn’t going to become an instant classic. And it’s probably more apt to get us aged folk reaching back to the classics that got us into music… but it’s better than most that attempt this kind of throw back. So go ahead, pick it up. I mean, Jade Tree has a better track record than most, right?

Challenger [I]Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses[/I] Review

In the last few years it has become quite fashionable for former punk rock stars to drop their tough-guy attitudes, tone down the rock, and become neo-troubadours for a generation of heartbroken, self-loathing emo kids. Such is not the case with Challenger, the latest musical endeavor from the frontmen of the Chicago’s sociopolitical punk rock powerhouse, Milemarker. Rather than slowing things down, Dave Laney and Al Burian have cranked up the volume and produced an impressive ten-song debut packed full of anger, art, and angular post-punk anthems.

 

Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses kicks off with ‘Input the Output’, easily one of the best tracks on the album. Alternate guitar chords, catchy lead guitar lines, vocal harmonies, and intense energy immediately let you know that this is a band of good musicians and not just another bunch of wannabe Ramones who recently learned to play a few power chords. But the energy doesn’t stop at the first track; the entire album is equal mix of angst and mosh-worthy breakdowns. These guys also know a thing or two about writing great hooks; every song is catchy without being the least bit poppy. Unfortunately, towards the end of the album the energy that was so prevalent at the beginning starts to fade. There is a filler track or two thrown in and then the album comes to a close with the Trojan Horse, a song that is a little slower than the others, but is a decent song to close out this very solid release.

 

Overall, this is a great album that has the energy to keep you interested almost the whole way through and the great songwriting that will keep you coming back again and again. It is one of those albums that gets you excited when you listen to it, like the first time you heard Husker Du or Black Flag. It is definitely one of the better punk rock albums this year, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for these guys. I would recommend this to Milemarker fans or anyone that is a fan of all-around good punk rock.

Challenger [I]Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses[/I] Review

At first listen Challenger seemed to have a fairly generic high energy rock sound, but after the second or third listen Challenger’s wide range of creativity and song writing skills subtlety came forth to create a unique blend of punk, pop, and noise rock sounds.

Challenger is not the type of band to be pinned down to one sound and this keeps the album sounding fresh and interesting through out. Songs like “Death Museum” delve into keyboard sounds for a lead instrument, while other songs like “Sweet Vaccine” have awkward sounding riffs that exhibit Challenger’s ability to tie noise rock guitar work effortlessly into upbeat songs, and songs like “Crushed City” and “The Trojan Horse” exhibit an uncanny ability to write pop guitar hooks.

The music is not the only element of Challenger that demonstrates their creativity and diversity. The style of vocal delivery is experimental and the lyrical content is intelligent without being overly wordy or confusingly symbolic.

While neither of the two vocalists have amazing voices in a traditional sense they find a wide array of ways to make use of what they do have. Songs like “Input the Output” and “The Angry Engineer” exhibit the raw, screamy side of the vocals, while songs like “Crushed City” and “The Trojan Horse” demonstrate the well crafted pop and backing vocal talents of the band. Challenger also find interesting ways to use their voices such as the high pitched pitter patter sound of the vocals on “Blackouts” and the dialogue style of vocals between male and female voices on, “Brand Loyalty.”

When the vocals cry out, “I’m agoraphobic (don’t worry they give you a definition in the linear notes) to the bone/ anxiety pipe bomb of worthless steel and fading charm,” on the opening track of the album you know you are in store for quality lyrical content instead of pop punk clichés and forced rhymes. The lyrics are introspective and witty without being abstract. Lines such as “We’re so sad and self satisfied when talking amongst ourselves about the way things ought to be/ but the reality is we’ve got to too much time on our hands to handle the amount of time our hands are dangling by our sides,” and “You’re always looking for somebody to hold you/ you’re always looking for somebody to trust you/ you’re always looking for somebody to tell you/ hey, it’s all right if you want to spend the night,” drip with irony while lines such as “Hey man, it’s not about the money/ it’s about getting what you deserve,” exude a sense of raw, smack in the face, truth.

Challenger is a band for anyone who enjoys hearing an album where every song has something new to offer, yet there is an underlying component that solidifies the whole release. In Challenger’s case this cohesive element is their energy. The music is fast paced and heavy and the vocals are never subdued.

Challenger [I]Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses[/I] Review

Challenger have a well-rounded sound. The guitar riffs stick out the most in their songs. However, they do not overpower the rhythm section like many other bands do. The vocals are in-your face during some parts and they are slowed down in others. The singer has a raspy voice that really fits the sound these guys are producing. Altogether, their songs are upbeat and hard-hitting, as they don’t really let down the intensity.

A key song on the album is the second track, titled "Death Museum". It begins with their unique guitar sound, which is soon joined by the raspy vocals. Most of the songs, like this one, have a anthem-like chorus that is easy to sing-a-long with. The guitar riff combined with the drumming produces a very catchy rhythm that is hard to forget. The fourth track, "Unemployment", brings the same kind of energy talked about before. This song has a nice guitar riff as well. They really seem to know how to get this certain sound out of their guitar playing. It is hard to describe, but it sort of has a double-guitar sound. The song sort of mellows out a bit, but picks up again when they start to shout "hey man, it’s not about the money, it’s about getting what you deserve".

Challenger have written a record full of energy and catchy guitar riffs. It’s hard not to get into their music after the first song. The one down side is that their isn’t much diversity from song to song. It’s pretty much the same thing throughout all ten songs, with a few different elements thrown in here and there. However, if you are looking for a band that will get you jumping, then this is a great fit. They can play, write, and perform it all so it is very entertaining.

Standout Tracks:
"Death Museum"
"Unemployment"
"Sweet Vaccine"

Challenger [I]Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses[/I] Review

Not content with being in one of the Midwest’s best post-punk indie rock combos, Milemarker’s Dave Laney and Al Burian put their day job on hold to bring us a second amazing band. Where Milemarker is a textured, almost operatic prog-influenced math rock combo complete with keyboards and a female voice, Challenger is a more straight ahead pop-core power trio with a sound more reminiscent of Bullet Lavolta, early Jawbox or other late 1980s Dischord records than the Floyd meet Fantômas of Milemarker. Free of the expectations and inherent weirdness that distinguishes Milemarker, Laney and Burian, along with drummer Timothy Remis, keep things as simple as they possibly can. Of course with these guys in command, simple is a relative term. But consider that only one song breaks the five-minute mark and the total running time of this ten-track disc is four minutes shorter than Milemarker’s seven-song, 41-minute Anaesthetic EP. Naturally the angst and power that are hallmarks of the Milemarker sound as well as that band’s cryptic lyrical content can be heard in abundance and the resulting sound while definitely less fussy, is no less interesting.

Challenger Interview

The faithfully busy Al Burian of Challenger (and Milemarker) was kind enough to give us his time on these questions (some odd ones) – and quickly at that. Again, Challenger is our artist of the month for January 2004, which makes this all the pertaint. Although, Al didn’t offer up an answer to our bonus question. However, several people have been sending us answers to the question, so one of these days our dreams will come true.

At heart how does Challenger differ from Milemarker?

In terms of ideals and ethic it’s the same. I think the main difference is in the musical approach. Milemarker came out of the hardcore scene, and was intent on breaking boundaries and knocking over the musical convention that we saw at that time (this was when Maximumrocknroll started refusing to review records that didn’t sound "punk enough" and things like that- we saw that sort of rigidity as antithetical to our idea of what punk was). Now that the music scene we’re in has sort of "caught up-" using a keyboard or a sampler is almost as required now as it used to be reviled- we decided to try something else. The idea of challenger is to make straightforward, aggressive punk rock, but try to find ways to communicate our
political, personal, and aesthetic agenda within that. It’s like being a painter and focusing on abstract art for a while, and then deciding to try doing some landscape painting for a change. You accept a set of rules so that you can see how far you can push yourself within them.

How long do you expect Challenger to exist as a side project?
(Not saying that it would take over Milemarker or anything)

I don’t see Challenger as a side project. I see it as a new band that I’m in. And there is no grand scheme at work, we work on a much smaller scale than that. I was happy to get the Challenger record done, now I’m
excited to go on tour with the band. When that’s accomplished, we’ll think about what to do next. I’ve found that bands with big long-term world-domination schemes tend to implode in six months, whereas bands like Milemarker or Challenger who don’t plan past the next tour tend to go on and on for years. So we’re sticking with the formula that has worked for us.

Who is your favorite Democratic presidential candidate at the
moment? Is there someone you would rather see rocking the campaign
trail?

I’m not a big proponent of the Democratic Party. I do hope that Bush loses in 2004, but on the other hand, I have no illusions that a Democrat in the White House is going to turn things around in some drastic way in this country. That’s going to require a lot of grass-roots action, and the general public’s non-reaction to Bush’s blatant vote-fraud in the 2000 election doesn’t point to that being on the horizon. US foreign policy
now seems to function similarly to the Israeli model- they put the right-wing guy in, he annexes some territory, then they put the leftish guy in, and he apologizes for the last guy, but they still keep the territory. Whether Bush wins in 2004 or not, we’re still going to be stuck with the repercussions of the invasion of Iraq for decades. And that invasion, as far as I can tell, was being planned already during the Clinton administration. So, I don’t know– vote against Bush, yes, but I think more radical politics at a more grass-roots level is what’s needed in the long run.

On a similar note, what do you think of punkvoter.com? Do you
think they can have impact on the 2004 election?

Well, again, the fact that Bush wasn’t actually elected didn’t seem to have much of an impact in 2000, so it’s hard to say that anything can have much of an effect on the actual outcome, since you can apparently now just get a relative to rig the ballots for you. I do think that every little thing helps, I think it’s just awesome that Fat Mike (I believe he’s the organizer of punkvoter.com?) is using his influence to re-inject some sense of political involvement and social thought into punk, especially the more warped-tour end of it which seems to really lack that. Of course, every little bit helps. Hopefully it won’t end up being a one-issue movement,
though, where people get excited until the election and then drop off again. I think the bigger impact would be to get kids politicized in a more permanent and long-term way.

Is there any way you would have Ben Davis coming in with
Challenger on any level?

I would always be honored to collaborate with Mr. Davis. Hopefully we will again soon. It’s more likely that he will show up on a future Milemarker recording than with Challenger, though.

What are your touring plans? How does it conflict with Milemarker?

We plan to tour the US in March-April and Europe in May-June. It doesn’t conflict with Milemarker plans, really, since at the moment there are none. I imagine that Challenger is probably more likely to be on tour in the foreseeable future, while Milemarker is more likely to take advantage of its non-mobile status to start making recordings which can’t be reproduced live.

What advantages do you have in Chicago starting a band up that
you didn’t have in Chapel Hill?

Well, Chicago just has a lot going on. There are tons of musicians, tons of people involved in music industry. Among the bands, there is a lot of camaraderie, and a surprising lack of ego– people help each other out,
and it’s relatively easy to find people to play music with. There are people here playing in five or six bands at once! I appreciate that greater sense of fluidity- people have offered to play with us when we needed it, and
I’ve filled in for friends’ bands and gone on tour with them- it’s really nice to have that sense of working towards the common goal of making music for the sake of making music. Dave and I started Challenger with the expressed idea of keeping the line-up amorphous. Like early Black Flag, we liked the idea that it took the emphasis off the individuals. You never knew who the singer was going to be, so it became more of a community project than someone’s claim to fame.

If they made an H2 (the small Hummer) as an hybrid with good gas
mileage would you drive it?

That’s a weird question. I doubt it would be in my price range. One of the worst things about being in a band is driving all over the place in gas-guzzling vans. Milemarker drove from Chicago to DC to play an anti-war protest, and when we thought of how much gas we had used to play at the "no blood for oil" rally we felt pretty idiotic. So I support fuel-economy in all its forms, if that’s what you’re getting at.

Who do you see as a hot new band that most people have yet to hear?

In terms of new bands I have to admit that I usually like my friends’ bands. So: Russian is a great new band from Chicago, Kerbloki is from Carrboro, NC and rules, and overseas I like the German bands Robocop Kraus, Amtrak and Endmonster.

At the end of the day, where would you like to see Challenger end
up?

I would like to see people re-engage with music as a visceral force, I’d like to see more alternative and underground spaces opening up, I’d like to see "alternative culture" meaning something again, expressing some values and ideas that are actually alternative to the mainstream. I’d like to see people give it up and go crazy a little more often. Music is a cathartic thing for me, I don’t have time to fuck around and fake it, I try to throw down in the bands I’m in. I think the cultural climate now is very passive. There is not a lot of hope or belief that we can make things happen, that we can be the agents of change. I guess I hope that the energy we’re putting out might in turn energize people. My hope is that we could be part of something bigger, that things might become exciting.

copyright exoduster.com 2004

Challenger Give People What They Want in Lethal Doses Jade Tree Records Grade: A-

As the opening salvo from Challenger, Give People What They Want in Lethal Doses rocks the bow from word go and knocks a little punk into the serious indie rock tradition. It is not as though you don’t have the essence of Challenger in your record collection right now and it is not as if the members of Challenger are rookies to this game. Read on to learn about your new favorite band.

The core of Challenger is the backbone of Milemarker – everyone’s favorite Chapel Hill to angry Chicago band – in Dave Laney on vocals and guitar and Al Burian on vocals, guitar and bass. Filling out the band is drummer Timothy Remis. As much as Challenger may down play it, the influence of Milemarker is significant, though it is partially a function of the unique vocal stylings of both Laney and Burian. Though the influence of Milemarker is there in the sheer song construction and, at times, complexity, Challenger posture more towards the post-punk stylings of Husker Du and a harmonious Sonic Youth. And that’s their goal: to offer more headstrong, aggressive punk but not in a boring three-chord manner. Hence, there is no reliance on electronics of any sort with Challenger – though you still would have trouble distinguishing Challenger songs from the first half of songs like "Frigid Forms Sell You Warmth." Virtually every song contains at minimum one section that sticks to your memory like some virus, forcing you to instantly recognize it if you heard it randomly at some other point in time. This is even more impressive given that the songs vary little in length and average about four minutes – there have been tons of records where this fact can create marginal differentiation between tracks.

The ten track record kicks off in thrashing fashion on "Input the Output" with the line "that seven year itch, became a life long twitch" yelled off over winding guitars and continues on for the next three minutes. The guitars march between muting matching the verse and then opening up for the yelled choruses and pre-choruses. As such, this is a tremendous start to the record, but actually contains probably the least amount of catchiness of the ten songs. "Death Museum" starts more straight forward, but comes around after the first chorus with memorable guitars playing a very simple power chord to riff segment. Consistent with previous positive and happy sunshine lyrics, Laney utters "when we awake from our deep dark sleep/will we crawl, crawl from our self-made mausoleum" as the signature line from "Death Museum." This is followed by the hot "Blackouts" and it sub-chorus oddity of "Can I kick it?/Can I kick it?…." This is the first track were you see a glimpse of the catchiness that Challenger possesses. "Unemployment" comes at you swirling around several times before exploding past a bridge to a super breakdown reminiscent of some Milemarker constructions. "This Is Only A Test" is the second song with an ultra-fetching segment, where a combo of singers lead up to a chorus of "Hey, it’s alright if you want to spend the night/It’s alright." "Brand Loyalty" is one of the more abrasive tracks in the first couple of minutes before a section of various people repeating the line "You’re great, but it’s never going to workout between us/After tonight we’ll never be together again." "Sweet Vaccine" is similar in structure and sound to "Brand Loyalty." "The Angry Engineer" finds Challenger back to the same aggressive feeling as the opener "Input the Output." Burian offers up the main vocals on the start for the mid-tempo and more DC- sounding "Crushed City." The guitar work – with doubling guitar riffs – gives it a feel like the Dismemberment Plan with balls or a more esoteric Piebald. The finale "The Trojan House" is a slower mover that exudes more indie rock than aggressive punk of earlier tracks. But as the five-minute opus that it is, it’s definitely one of the standout tracks on the record and a great way to the end the record.

The major concern with Challenger is whether or not they continue on or simply serve as a fleeting side project of the powerhouse Milemarker. What happens is mostly a function of things that can’t be known at this time, but it is certainly difficult in various ways to maintain a successful side project when the main band is drawing you back – just see Conor Oberst with Desa. The morale of this story is get this record immediately when it comes out and make sure to check them out live, since you may not have the opportunity for much longer.