Chat Pile are shaping up to be landlocked American heavy music’s equivalent of indie film auteurs, nerdishly tweaking the conventions of various genres while maintaining their singularly warped perspective like a rictus grin. On their outstanding debut album, last year’s God’s Country, the Oklahoma City quartet updated sludgy Reagan-Bush noise rock with pseudonymous vocalist Raygun Busch’s grippingly theatrical excoriations of the meat industry, the unhoused crisis, and a purple McDonald’s spokesblob—plus basslines tuned so low they felt more edible than audible. Nearly as winning was the band’s take on alt-country, complete with wiseass lyrics name-checking Kid Rock albums, from last November’s soundtrack to an indie film in which Busch actually acts.
Brothers in Christ, a split EP with Kansas City kindred spirits Nerver, brandishes another set of influences from the late 20th-century American underground. “We’re leaning more into the indie-rock side of our taste a little bit,” Chat Pile’s bass player, known as Stin, told Grammy.com. Elsewhere, he specifically cited canonical bands Slint, Sonic Youth, and Guided by Voices, along with lesser-knowns Starfish, who recorded for Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey’s influential Trance Syndicate label. The EP is a worthy expansion of the greater Chat Pile universe: part loving tribute, part crate-digging adventure, all existentially fucked up.
The first of two Chat Pile songs on the set, “King,” channels the bleak absurdity of God’s Country into a perfectly 120 Minutes-worthy package. Quiet/loud dynamics, militaristic mid-tempo drums, and oily guitar tones that could stain a downtown apartment’s wall pay homage to their chosen milieu, as do Spiderland-like chiming harmonics, but the bass still squelches somewhere beneath human comprehension, and the song manages never to be predictable. By the time the band is chugging at full hair-raising force, Busch has hinted at day-drinking and book-reading—dangerous pastimes, both. He even manages to distill the questioning despair of God’s Country into shout-along non sequiturs: “What makes me alive?/What’s the meaning of this?” Go off, king.
Chat Pile’s other entry on Brothers in Christ, “Cut,” has a video that’s a grim, color-deprived snapshot of life between the coasts: flat land, leafless trees, dreary homes. Said to be inspired by Stephen King, the song itself is closer to Robert Eggers circa The Witch. All through its hyper-realistic recreation of so much “buzzes like a fridge” alt-rock churn that followed in the Pixies’ abstract wake lurks an unseen but palpable menace. Busch veers between conversational deadpan and hysterical pleading, frantically attempting to stave off something that he doesn’t want and alluding cryptically to “God’s voice.” Whatever may end up cutting him before the song ends, it goes deep.
The two songs by Nerver solidify the sense of a family affair within a community of curious obsessives. Not to be confused with the almost identically named NerVer—apparently a splinter project of “Cumbersome” post-grungers Seven Mary Three—the KC band traffics in bellowing, full-throttle pummel reminiscent of late-1990s bands like Unsane. They’ve released a couple of albums, most recently last year’s Charge, but to date they’re fairly obscure; they shared a fateful 2019 OKC warehouse bill with Chat Pile, and the two groups went on a mini-tour together in 2022. Lacking Chat Pile’s distinctively skewed lens, Nerver’s contributions here don’t break much ground that hasn’t been trodden by other bands that have put their own fine spins on ’90s noise rock over the decades, but they’re keen and bracing, a fittingly fervid appetizer to Chat Pile’s cracked main course. Who knows where the sound of Chat Pile’s in-the-works second album may end up, but for the health of their scene, a small-scale, friends-oriented record like Brothers in Christ feels like an important gesture.