BY JORDAN MAINZER
Cy Dune exemplifies Seth Olinsky’s multi-track mind, and Against Face is perhaps its greatest distillation. These are strong words when talking about the singer and guitarist and composer, who founded Akron/Family, created an experiment of simultaneous playing called Band Dialogue, and has composed film scores and worked with the likes of Rhys Chatham. How can an 18-minute “punk” album do so much at once and tell you so much about a person?
It was during the time Olinsky was creating the 2014 Cy Dune record SHAKE that he first started to write the songs for Against Face, tunes he described as “too raging and punk for that record,” in a phone conversation with me earlier this year. He ended up shelving them, though they became live Cy Dune staples. Fast-forward, and he picked them back up, ultimately deciding to make a record around the idea of short songwriting, the polar opposite of the sprawling, repetitive dirges he made with Akron/Family. Olinsky describes this as a “21st century perspective on punk.” “I wanted to abstractly move through different eras of punk and reference punk, post-punk, and new wave and pull loosely through the different subgenres of it,” he said. “[It’s] almost a hazy, futuristic take on punk with weird little distorted abstractions in between.” The album is self-aware, has a sense of humor, and is almost Hausu Mountain-esque in its use of pastiche, donning clear influences from early rock and roll and blues but also ambient techno, French house, and krautrock. Lead single and opening track “Don’t Waste My Time” is a tension-building surf rock jam with bouncy synthesizers and scuzzy guitars, while the title track allows Olinsky to delve into jazz guitar noodling over its thumping percussion, with an admitted nod to The Stooges’ “No Fun”. And closer “Steal Your Face” is a dead ringer for “Search and Destroy”. Olinsky wears his influences–from Iggy Pop to Black Flag–on his sleeve, proudly and explicitly.
That Against Face is truly all over the place is unsurprising when you talk to Olinsky, an avid consumer of all art. “I’m such a pure music fan,” he said. “I love the simplest and most complex music, for what it is. I have a sincere passion for raging on the guitar with loud drums, my ears ringing.” To Olinsky, punk is an accessible form of art because it can deal with complex ideas with instrumentation that’s easy to play. He cites Devo as another influence, who “take all that stuff on from a thesis point of view, but they’re also a band who’s having fun.” Look no further than the third track of the album, “Disorientation (Cut Up)”, with its sparkling synth arpeggios and pulsating bass beat. Olinsky chants the title monosyllabically, his vocals autotuned. The song builds up like a dance tune. “Precedent” and “Gone To My Head” are more straightforward garage rock burners. Olinsky presents the genres as they are, without pretense. You can analyze and enjoy them equally. And in order to cleanse your palate, Olinsky offers interludes, like the 20 seconds of rubbery bass and chopped drums on “AAAA”. “The album is kind of a fun punk song in and of itself,” Olinsky said. “A short-winded, weird, ranting thing that’s free in the way it moves from song to song.”
Against Face, like everything Olinsky does, was informed by his other practices, including Lightning Studios, the label he runs that sometimes puts out zines. In a series of interviews with protopunk guitarists like Wayne Kramer of the MC5 and Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith’s band, he began to become interested in the anthropology of rock and punk, how guitar sounds and techniques from Chuck Berry onward came to be. The album’s reference points to music history don’t stop at the music. The album art is from photographer Bill Daniel, who used to document the early punk scene at Raul’s in Austin. Olinsky, who first met Daniel when he was living in Braddock, PA, sent Daniel the record and asked whether he had anything that would go well with it, and Daniel sent Olinsky the photo that would don the cover of Against Face. “It was visceral and abstracted, with a style that’s punk but also kind of hippie,” Olinsky said. “I liked the idea of having a photo from the initial expression of punk music, recontextualized for the modern era.”
For all we know, Olinsky will release another record that will become even more representative of his ethos than Against Face. Fresh off releasing the soundtrack to the short film Bronzed, he’s readying another composer record, and he’s trying to finish up another “sprawling” Cy Dune record, ironically titled Minimalism. (He also joined LA-based experimental collective Wild Up a few years ago.) Ever full of contradictions and ambitions, Olinsky is nonetheless grounded. I ask him whether he’s planning on reintroducing the Against Face songs in a live set anytime soon now that the recorded versions are out. His response? Slyly, with a wink, “I think it would make a solid 18-minute set for sure.”