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(The) Alpha Control Group (C)/Master Mechanic

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"(The) A C G C 7"
Hope/Hard Travelin' Records

"It's More Fun to Compete" b/w "You've Got A Lot"
Sock-It Records

In less than a decade, the 7-inch record has gone from an indie watermark to a semi-disposable punk-rock status symbol to an immensely troublesome labor of love. After all, you're guaranteed to, at best, break even on sales, your average bar or club won't take it as a demo, and it's straight-up cheap to do a CD these days.

But those are the same reasons why some bands choose to do it. Everyone has a CD. Your girlfriend's little brother's band -- the kids who picked their band name in the cafeteria and ran home to record Slipknot-a-like songs on Dad's laptop? Rest assured, they've got a fucking CD. But going through the long days and sleepless nights of the recording process for 300 copies in an outdated medium -- well, sometimes that means you've got class, sometimes just taste. In the case of these two new local 7-inch releases, it means both.

ACGC has been adding words to its name since they started out as Control Group a few years back. They're now permanently (The) Alpha Control Group (C), thanks to the discovery of an apparent worldwide conspiracy of bands with that moniker: "When we were told of the Czech 'control group', we threw in the towel" -- on the name, that is. Musically, these indie-scene long-termers are beautifully disgruntled perseverance merchants -- as in, "When we look / we need to compare and contrast & we all need big kicks in the ass."

It's ugly how trendy it is to compare bands to Gang of Four, so we'll search out other ground: "Big Kicks" does have that angular post-punk appeal, but perhaps that vaguely punk-reggae-influenced guitar lick is more White Music-era XTC, and lyrically in the Mekons "32 Weeks" vein, than those boys from the other side of Leeds.

"Through the Door" by ACGC could easily be translated into Arena-ese by the right unintelligent fret-tapping bimbo, but Justin Rathell or Dan Goldberg or Tim Williams or Lenny Young ain't gonna be devil-signing their names on the dotted line. These dreams are writ in Pittsburgh dirt, then sifted from the gravel by the sieve of a lifetime of great record collections and big ideas. As Goldberg sings in "Through the Door": "Dreams can't be sold, only rented out / return to sender prior to burn out."

Yeah, just like Master Mechanic -- the originators of Pittsburgh anti-burnout advice. Master Mechanic Fact #1: Guitarist Bob Spieler can fix anything, whether or not he's had 42 bottles of beer, and he can bop shirtless better than Iggy. Master Mechanic Fact #2: Spieler, singer Gabrielle "Gob" Marsden, bassist Doug Fedinick and drummer Jim Hohman don't care about anything but the almighty rock. That's rock in the 1970s "rawk" sense, i.e., amps with tubes in 'em and using dirt as hair gel; rock music that can include a ballad like "You've Got a Lot": slow and loud, in that Johnny Thunders-loved-Phil Spector kind of way. That's rock in the sense of thriving on shitty conditions and turning it into something beautiful and soulful, like, perhaps, a limited-edition 45 rpm record on swirly, marble-colored vinyl. Ooooh, swirly.

Master Mechanic Fact #3: This band's new 45 may make you think that rock 'n' roll doesn't need to entirely go away and rot in a corner. In one of the great traditions of 45 rpm records, the alleged flipside -- "You've Got a Lot" -- is better than the A-side. But that doesn't mean that "It's More Fun To Compete" isn't a roaring, life-affirming slab of squealing guitar '70s punk-fried garage rock -- it's just that "You've Got a Lot" is completely screamy and abandoned, and it makes you want to care.

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