I took out my earplugs at one point during BNLX's roaring set, just to hear what it sounded like without them, which I instantly regretted. I knew it was going to be loud — they brought two giant Vox speakers with them, plus a big Fender amp — and could feel vibrations in my chest. But I didn't think it was going to be that loud. Ouch.*
Volume isn't just for punishment, though in the wrong hands it most certainly is. But sometimes you just can't achieve that clarity of sound, that particular strain of feedback, that shriiiiiiinnnnng you get from flicking the strings above the headnut, that tone…without cranking the amp. Ed Ackerman, a 20-year veteran guitar slinger of such Minneapolis bands as 27 Various and Polara, knows what he's doing. BNLX didn't just blow eardrums, they kinda blew minds.
Despite Ackerson's pedigree, BNLX snuck out last year in a purposefully enigmatic way, releasing an EP every quarter, each one emblazoned with Neu!-esque cover art and press releases that read something like Paul Morley might've written for ZTT! in 1984. No band photos. You could only focus on the music: fuzz-and-drum-machine-fueled psych-kraut-postpunk that's not too far from The Raveonettes or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, spiked a wicked sense of humor, as well as Ackerson and his wife Ashley's complimentary vocals. This kind of music is just better turned all the way up.
So for being just two of them and a laptop, they made quite a racket at the Rock Shop. Normally I'm one to complain about bands using canned backing instead of a real drummer, but vintage drum machine sounds — right out of 1987, be it Jesus & Mary Chain or Age of Chance — are kind of integral to what BNLX are doing. With a stroboscopic lightshow (what, no smoke machines?) you didn't really need anyone else.
With little in the way of stage banter, the Ackersons ripped through a highlights selection of BNLX's "Year One Plan" (those first four EPs) plus a couple new ones from the new EP, which is part of the "First Year One Plan (extension one)." Another thing they do right is know when to get off stage. I wanted one more song, the way it should always be.
BNLX's merch table was the most affordable I've ever seen. EPs were $3 and t-shirts only $5. They had EP #5 for sale, which doesn't officially come out till next month. It might be their strongest yet. Kicking off with the Zepplin–esque bomber "Burn the Boats," it then moves to snarky, snarling "Back in Your Hole," a well-done Smiths homage/parody called "Garbabe Strike" ("It's rubbish") and a seriously kick-ass cover of Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day." The latter you can hear on Wintry Mix Three. And you can check out another here:
If this is the first you've heard of BNLX, you can do a quick catch-up as the band has made a six-track sampling of their first four EPs available as a free download from the Susstones website. The first three are all originals; the fourth all covers. Here' are a couple of choice cuts:
*My ears were pretty much destroyed by early '90s shoegaze and the decade after where I refused to wear earplugs. Tinnitus is no fun, folks. Wear earplugs!