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Xaddax - Counterclockwork LP

Nick Sakes boasts one of those impeccable underground-rock track records. His discography to date encompasses three brilliant, insular projects: prog-minded post-hardcore nightmare merchants Dazzling Killmen, cryptic art-punk psychos Colossamite and the skewed yet surprisingly tuneful Sicbay. Now, more than two decades on from Sakes's recording debut, comes the part where we inform you that the guitarist/shrieker has "matured," and is prepping his first singer-songwriter record or somesuch. Except that's entirely false; Sakes's latest band, Xaddax, a duo with drummer Chrissy Rossettie, is as challenging and gloriously cathartic as anything he's done to date.

Sakes and Rossettie met at Chicago's Fireside Bowl back in 2001, when Sicbay shared a bill with Rossettie's former band, the head-spinning neo–No Wave outfit My Name Is Rar-Rar. Flash forward to '09, when Sakes (then living in Minneapolis) and the Brooklyn-based Rossettie reconnected online and struck up a long-distance romance. Soon Sakes headed east, and within a few months, the pair had hatched a new musical entity, named Xaddax in honor of their shared love of "palindromes and pointy letters." A flurry of live shows commenced.

Counterclockwork, the debut Xaddax release is a must-hear for any Nick Sakes fan, but what's most impressive about the 25-minute LP is the way it places his trademark livid howl in an entirely new context. Working with a mad-scientist electroacoustic drum set-up (huge toms, no cymbals, various sample-triggering pads and a foot-controlled synth pedal) Rossettie pounds out lurching math-disco rhythms, haloed in scuzzy sci-fi FX. Sakes responds with perversely anthemic riffs and mantra-like shouts, resulting in a kind of hot-wired hardcore like Devo gone nastily dystopic. In a sense, Counterclockwork sounds like nothing Nick Sakes has ever done, but the record's spirit of venomous aggression combined with bold ingenuity fulfills every promise of one of the most fiercely uncompromising discographies in contemporary American music.

Skin Graft Records