Arab on Radar – Stolen Singles

5 out of 5

Label: Three One G

Produced by: Various

Little did I know: dragged – dragged – to a show at Village Underground, to see, I think, The Locust, who felt kinda-sorta like an It band at the time, I was moreso distracted (and confused) by their opener: Arab on Radar. Were these guys playing music? I’m pretty sure the drummer only had one part of his kit, and he was banging the shit out of it; it kept falling over and into other band members, and he kept righting it and shit-banging without pause. The guitarist and bassist were comparatively still and trancelike, juxtaposing their anarchic playing, which was the most shrill thing I’d ever seen.  And the singer writhed, and hung from the ceiling’s exposed pipes, and did all manner of herky jerk, but as a man totally possessed – not even performing, just driven to be this way. The Locust? Noise. Arab on Radar were a musical assault, the likes of which I’d never before known, and found myself kinda bothered… kinda scared?… And then totally intrigued. 

Little did I know they’d become one of my favorite bands. Little did I know they’d become part of my discovery of extreme no-wave, all because I’d been dragged to a show for some hip hardcore band I didn’t care about. 

And then flash forward to just a few years later when they broke up. Following quickly on that was Stolen Singles, a singles collection released by 31G that introduced me to the group’s path leading up to the Weasel Walter-produced Skin Graft records with which I’d caught up with them.  

While we’d also get another rerelease of early material, SS is probably the best way to experience this, as it graduates a listener from Arab’s formative dance punk – still plenty atonal, with Eric Paul’s nasally singing and penchant for lyrical scatalogy in place, but dancey all the same – on through the more beaten up, impossible jitters of their final material. On album, these different relative eras can be a bit more repetitive: their early shtick of bass heavy groove and contrapuntal guitars is brilliant at first (and the examples here are produced really well), but wears thin, being rather same-soundy after a bit. Here, that only lasts for two tracks before we move on into Load singles, and those two tracks are absolute highlights: a safe extension of more palatable no-wave punk funk for any looking to babystep toward AOR. As things progress, the riffs begin to get less rhythmic; Paul wilder on the mic. It’s a really exciting journey, and beyond the evolution of sound working well in sequence, it makes for an extremely balanced album, pitching between dancey fits and noise; relatively more boisterous and slower material – some things edging toward violent drone, then back to something that makes you want to get up and move, albeit spasmodically. 

With something of a dearth of AOR material, Stolen Singles is a boon: a convenient way to trip through the group’s lesser accessible stuff, and to see how quickly and effectively they graduated from fun prankster types who were taking from Six Finger Satellite and the like, onto completely owning their own assaulting sound. And from a modern standpoint, with the group split into Chinese Stars, Athletic Automaton, and etc., it’s interesting noting that this initial incarnation kind of encompassed the sounds of all those future bands at various points, perhaps suggesting that it was too much of a good thing. 

Y’know, for people who like music that makes their ears bleed.