Six Finger Satellite probably won't sell millions of copies of their idiosyncratic new CD, Law Of Ruins. But that might not be the point of the exercise.
"It seems like you have to have lambchop sideburns and a chain wallet to play rock music and it ends up being bad garage sh--," said the group's lead singer, Jeremiah Ryan. "Everyone has to have this schtick, or this angle, or genre. And I don't care."
Law of Ruins, due out Aug. 11, is the first album from the Rhode Island-based quartet in two years. And it takes up where their last album, Paranormalized, left off, melding the sound of electro-rock pioneers Devo with the rock 'n' roll chaos of The Jesus Lizard.
It is a musical approach that the group has pursued for nearly 10 years -- a decade of pummeling listeners with a sound that juxtaposes everything from bloodthirsty guitars to campy, almost pop-sounding synthesizers.
It is also an approach that has achieved mixed commercial results. The group, throughout its career, has attracted only a modest, albeit loyal, fanbase.
One of those fans -- who goes by the name Bludy Horse -- tried to capture the singular appeal of the group in an e-mail. "Six Finger Satellite have matured dramatically as a band; and pathetically, as that group of dorks stoned on Quaaludes in high school that everyone beat up," Horse wrote. "I can't listen to this music without my mood completely changing, making me laugh, shake my ass, or drink myself into a dangerous stupor."
The band's eclectic mix of space-age futurism and over-the-top punk guitar riffs has set them apart from the scores of sound-alike bands that litter MTV's "120 Minutes." But, at times, there's been a downside to that -- with all of the band's futurist imagery, it is often pigeonholed as just another retro-'80s group, a sort of grungy Flock of Seagulls.
"People say to me, 'Oh you guys are a sci-fi band. You know, a skinny-tie kind of group,' " Ryan said. "And I'm just like, 'I guess so.' There are certain things about that kind of stuff that I can understand."
With popular artists like the Rentals and Beck also revisiting the synthesized sounds of the '80s, Six Finger Satellite have plenty of company in their bid to recycle the keyboard-heavy days of yore.
As a founding member of Devo, a group that has become the unwitting precursor of the recent synthesizer resurrection, Jerry Casale isn't at all surprised to see rock music going back to the musical ideas of the '80s.
"The kids today, I really feel sorry for them," Casale said. "They are growing up horribly, forced to listen to horror stories about premarital sex. They think they have to wear body condoms just to touch another person. And with corporate America aggressively marketing every slogan and logo they can ... and the pigs breathing down their necks. It's only natural that they will look back nostalgically at a time when people were freely f---ing and snorting coke."
If anything, Law of Ruins is even more eclectic than its three predecessors. Ryan said that the album benefited from a new 16-track recording unit that the group recently installed in its Providence, R.I.-based home studio, the "Parlor."
The studio upgrade is evident in the album's vast range of sounds. From the first programmed beats of the synth intro to "Race Against Space" and the carnivorous guitar of the title track, the album pours out a blend of quiet electronic noise and full-bore rock 'n' roll. In addition, the techno-laden "Fall to Pieces" is a full-track exploration of a genre -- new wave -- that the band had previously only touched on in brief interludes between songs.
One of the more distinctive aspects of the album is Ryan's vocals, which are submerged deep in the mix, making them all but indecipherable.
But this is what Ryan said he had in mind for the album. "I've always been a fan of the kind-of inaudible lyrics that you kind-of have to search for and you end up making your own," he said. "A friend of mine will say, 'Is there a line in this song that goes whatever, you know, something crazy?' And it's way better than anything I could have come up with."