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January 20, 2004

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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.