Formed in Boston, based in Brooklyn, and hailing from Delaware and Southern California, Model/Actriz is an eclectic, experimental post-punk band that has taken its varying influences and pressurized them — the result being a menacing, dynamic, yet danceable knife’s edge of a sound. Their debut record, released in late February of this year, is a compelling, cohesive collection of tracks that stop and start jaggedly yet flow together perfectly. “Dogsbody” is less of an album and more of one long, twisting serpent spitting venom, gloating manically, slicing through its many sudden silences, and self-immolating on several occasions.
Frontman Cole Haden is the voice of the group. Toeing the line between masochism and sadism, his lyrics and delivery are steeped in sensuality, poetic passive aggression, a vengeful yet self-aware ego, and feminine bravado. Haden might have one of the more distinct, unique voices to emerge from the recent post-punk explosion (save perhaps Isaac Wood); yet the band behind him is just as cutting-edge and essential to Model/Actriz’s sound. On the kit is Ruben Radlauer, keeping unconventional time, stopping and starting the group on a dime, and beating the living hell out of his assorted weapons. Aaron Shapiro’s bass playing is quick and nimble, yet the sounds he is able to produce are gargantuan, at times sounding more akin to 808s and electronically produced bass — the line between the two sounds walked perfectly. Shapiro ends up carrying most of the melodic rhythm, as guitarist Jack Wetmore doesn’t play riffs or chords as much as piercing, distorted, palm-muted harmonics. At times screeching and wailing with atmospheric reverb, and at others ripping across the mix like a machine gun, Wetmore’s guitar playing is wholly fresh and unique — he has found a new way to make hardcore guitar heavy. The only comparison that comes easily to mind is the industrial guitarwork of Trent Reznor on the earliest Nine Inch Nails projects, but even that is more conventionally chord based and less simply unnerving.
“Unnerving” is a great word to use when discussing Model/Actriz. I was fortunate enough to catch them at The Cobalt in Vancouver — and what a show that was. The band got onstage, picked up their respective instruments, and stared, blank and piercing, out at the audience for a solid two minutes before they began playing, making methodical intense eye contact with virtually everyone before beginning with their debut’s electric, stomping opener “Donkey Show.” Loosely following the progression of the album, the band’s live attack was unrelenting, and yet the dynamics managed not to fall into the typical hardcore trap of becoming a sharp brown sludge. Each instrument could be clearly heard in the mix, and each complimented the others perfectly. Haden, after seductively applying lipstick and claiming that he “wanted to get to know us a little better,” spent much of the show pulling his microphone cord around the floor of the pit, whispering in people’s ears, and challenging all audience members to painful staring contests as he shrieked and wailed, not breaking character once. He opened up every mosh personally, on the same level as everyone else yet with the charismatically cold distance of a cult leader. Model/Actriz does sound like the soundtrack for a cult they may very well develop if they continue to push the envelope of post-punk and hardcore, fusing together a multitude of classic and new, experimental elements into a distinct, cohesive sound. They are not just technically impressive and full of emotional energy, either; their brutal soundscapes trend catchy, with sticky vocal refrains and danceable grooves. This is a band to watch out for — and to certainly watch in person if you get a chance. At the very least, go give “Dogsbody” a listen, but buckle up beforehand and prepare yourself to cross into Model/Actriz’s twisted, lascivious fever dream.