The word imp often conjures thoughts of a little cartoon devil: bulbous head, beet red skin, and a thin pitchfork. Something small, mischievous, maybe even up to no good, but not capable of doing all that much damage. Not much bark or bite, but maybe more a pinprick to the rear end here and there. Taking the more specific route, my dictionary says that imp could mean “a small demon” or “a mischievous child.” But the title of Pop. 1280′s sophomore LP, The Imps of Perversion, draws from the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Imp of the Perverse” or the common metaphor that inspired it, a study of the temptation to take the precise wrong action just for the sheer wrongness of it.
Another connection between Poe and Pop. would be the word gothic, specifically their combined interest in psychologically analyzing the descent of normal humans into absolute madness, depravity, and darkness, a turn toward the destructive animal. The band also share elements of the gothic in their sonics (moody synths, industrial grit, and hypnotic rhythms), though with little of the romanticism and theatricality that often doubled the dark makeup.
The guitar shivers and clenched-jaw vocal rabidity on opener “Lights Out” reveal perhaps a greater allegiance to David Yow than Robert Smith, more Birthday Party than Bauhaus. The pigfuck signposts stand tall right away, with thumping bass, washes of searing noise, and daggered guitars giving way to Chris Bug’s sneering lyrics about “a demon laugh” and dripping “detritus all over my floor.” It would seem that the song teeters at the edge of tearing down a shitty concert, like some pretentious band pretending they’re being asked for an encore. But when Bug should be playing along, buying into that old chestnut, he says what we’re all conditioned not to say ourselves: “I can’t pretend I care.”
Immediately following that, “The Control Freak” has some echoes of “Mouth Breather”, namely the seasick push and pull between manic rushing and menaced lumbering. Similar to Yow, Bug attacks the weirdos around him without addressing the fact that he himself is an angry, aggressive weirdo. The sheer power of his pointing and shouting outweighs any question you might lob back at him. Later, the seven minutes of “Nailhouse” give the reins over to Bug entirely, a simple drum pattern bolstered by an angular guitar figure and a dark, droning synth. And what’s Bug doing in this darkness? “Spraying blood while you prance and preen/ I try to imagine myself as you/ but all I can think of is dog food,” of course. This is what it is to be in the world of Imps of Perversion: seeking out the bleak and visceral while everyone else ignores it.
But Pop. 1280 aren’t content to be fringe-dwelling weirdos; they’d much rather be the imps that urge the rest of society on to the darkness at the edge of town. “Oh please nail my head to the wall/ that’s just how I like it,” Bug begs on “Human Probe II” as a concussive shelling of bass and percussion tackles some semblance of melody and grinding white noise wraps around the mix. The album closes on the lightest note you could imagine finding at the end of this tunnel. “Riding Shotgun” is spare and empty, noir guitar wavering in the winding depths. That said, the story also opens with Bug “riding shotgun with a broken spine” and later giving a pretty conclusive summary of their impish ways: “We try to see how far we can go, and if I go, I’m not going to go alone.”
Bug and his bandmates aren’t devils. Though the feedback and volume might suggest otherwise, they’re not working on an agenda of scorched earth destruction. They’re Imps of Perversion, delighting in leading others down the darker path rather than breaking it. That path may sound a little familiar to those who’ve been following similar imps for a couple of decades, but that doesn’t make Pop. 1280 any less enthusiastically bleak.
Essential Tracks: “Lights Out”, “Nailhouse”, and “Riding Shotgun”