Dancing in commiseration

Go Hibiki’s make defiant and vulnerable music for the anxious and desperate

By Rev. Adam McKinney on May 17, 2018

Over the years, in writing about music, I've found myself returning again and again to a particular quote. On the special features of the DVD for Stop Making Sense, David Byrne has an absurdist segment where he interviews himself. When one of Byrne's doppelgangers notes that Byrne has a bad voice, but somehow also considers himself a singer, Byrne responds, "The better the singer's voice, the harder it is to believe what they're saying."

This initially resonated with me in a way I couldn't quite put my finger on, but it's since become something of a catch-all descriptor for the kind of music I inevitably find myself drawn to. I soon found myself drawn to Modest Mouse, the Flaming Lips, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Bright Eyes, and other purveyors of ideas and emotion over vocal chops. Eventually, I stumbled upon the work of Titus Andronicus and AJJ, two bands that favor a visceral combination of self-loathing, dark humor, rousing anthems and, above all else, blistering vocals that are as defiant as they are quiveringly vulnerable. These are bands that took the ethos and energy of early emo and transposed that upon a canvas of punk, folk, Springsteen-indebted driving tunes, and blasts of post-hardcore noise. Titus Andronicus and AJJ both take giant leaps of faith into a pool that -- if they didn't have their brazen musicality, incisive and literate lyrics, and committed performances -- might turn out to be empty.

Throw onto that pile of bands a Montana-based foursome named Go Hibiki. On their 2017 LP, In the Years Spent, the outfit announces their intentions loud and clear with their opening track, "Max Keeble Goes to Hell." Lead singer Ethan J. Uhl's voice is instantly recognizable, starting at a strained yelp and only growing more frantic as the song goes on. Uhl's words mix with the music in that oh-so-satisfying way, lifting pessimism up to an art form as he's backed by triumphant guitars. When Uhl's shredded throat shouts lines like, "I stay up every night just waiting for bad news," it functions not as a downer rejoinder, but as a rallying cry for every anxious, desperate person who may be listening and dancing in commiseration.

Go Hibiki is made up of Uhl, Rob Cave on bass, Alasdair Lyon on drums, and Elizabeth Taillon on guitar. As is typically the case with this sort of group, the rest of the band isn't content to let Uhl wail himself hoarse all on his own, but rather favor joining in with the madness. Working from a template that mostly rests snugly in the pop-punk arena, Go Hibiki still tend to dial everything up to 11, their fingers firmly resting on overdrive. Like Titus Andronicus and AJJ, there's a healthy dose of self-deprecation and oddball humor that runs underneath everything -- though the lyrics may be, is a reference to a particularly lame kids' movie from the early ‘00s. 

In "Alex Jones and Me," Uhl offhandedly compares himself and his incessant screaming to lunatic Alex Jones, even as the meat of the song's story seems to be about how helpless Uhl felt when finding a dying dog in the street. Again, these lyrics, caustic though they seem, shroud a vulnerable message: Uhl's helplessness at seeing the dog is worsened because he feels his lost love would have known what to do. This is that leap of faith, that big swing that some bands make, that doesn't always connect. In the case of Go Hibiki, you either get onboard or you don't. For me, their screaming is a salve.

GO HIBIKI, all ages, w/ Lark, Blood Orphans, Anomie, Friday, May 18, Le Voyeur, 404 4th Ave. E., Olympia, $5-$10 suggested donation, 360.943.5710, voyeurolympia.com