Since their inception, Lithics seemed destined to transcend the promise of their previous bands. Counting members of yesteryear punk powerhouses like Psychic Feline, Nucular Aminals, and We Quit among their ranks, the Portland four-piece’s evolution has been relatively quick, culminating in their 2016 debut Borrowed Floors, one tape, and an EP of “audio ephemera” that includes many early versions of the songs on their new album, Mating Surfaces.
Opening with the spastic punk of “Excuse Generator,” singer/guitarist Aubrey Hornor’s stony delivery isn’t exactly deadpan—it sounds almost emotionless. That’s a good thing, regardless of intent: The discordant pushing and pulling of guitar squeaks and the buoyant rhythmic entanglement of bassist Bob Desaulniers and drummer Wiley Hickson allow the songs many fun, danceable moments. Fidgeting within the wiry aural real estate of similarly disjointed art-punks like Devo or the Minutemen, Hornor employs minimalist repetition, tightly woven guitar interplay, and choppy vignettes of no wave abandon with her enchanting Morse code vocals.
Shades of Tom Verlaine’s guitar sensibilities permeate the first half of Mating Surfaces’ unabashed anti-pop, casting a dark shadow on jagged tunes like “Still Forms” and the twisted Dischord-romp of “When Will I Die.” “Be Nice Alone” conjures the stuttering lo-fi missives of Cate Le Bon, if she’d listened to a lot more ’90s Kill Rock Stars records.
Desaulniers’ creepy, driving bass lines lead the way on standout rockers like “Specs” and “Edible Door,” while guitarist Mason Crumley executes an intricate kind of chaos that throws even the potentially poppy cuts like “Glass of Water” off the scent. It’s in tracks like this where Lithics’ greatest symbioses are heard—the sound of apathy slithering away from a band whose influences have surely transformed in the age of the condo.
As a statement of artistic identity, Mating Surfaces is about as defiant as you can get without simply releasing a record full of roiling feedback and nothing else. And while its cornerstones sound somewhat familiar, the songs are nevertheless taut. Lithics delivers thoughtful dissertations on self-expression and a cultural divide growing ever wider.