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March 10, 2004

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The kind of hardcore punk that Challenger revives on Give People What They Want In Lethal Doses originated on the West Coast in the early '80s, at a time when the New York and U.K. punk scenes had long since converted to art-rock and new wave, and what had been passing for punk in L.A. tended to be didactic and thuggish. That's when bands like Black Flag and The Minutemen opened up hardcore stylistically and thematically, forcing a wider variety of personal expression into the DIY ethos. The Chicago-based Challenger picks up on that sense of committed, plugged-in noisemaking on its debut album, a contender in 2004's roaring, quasi-political, punk-savior pageant. (It joins previous winners At The Drive-In, Desaparecidos, and ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.) Co-founded by Milemarker guitarist-vocalist Dave Laney and bassist-vocalist Al Burian (with non-Milemarker drummer Timothy Remis), Challenger establishes its sound most clearly on "Blackouts," with its blaster riffs and unusually tuneful, precisely cadenced screaming. What They Want features plenty of pummeling and dissonance, but also moments when the guitars spiral around each other majestically, the lyrics describe mortal fear, and the vocals surge. The band's comprehension of how personal politics influence everyday relationships means that Laney can make the line "It's all right if you want to spend the night" (from "This Is Only A Test") sound like a threat, while the kiss-off "You're great, but it's never going to work out between us" (from "Brand Loyalty") sounds seductive. Though What They Want barely exceeds 30 minutes, its relentlessness can get tiresome, but Challenger's charged descriptions of a world out of balance are undeniably powerful. The band's straightforward eloquence peaks on "Unemployment," which contains an entire value system in the line "Hey man / it's not about the money / it's about getting what you deserve."

The Onion

Noel Murray