words by trevor elkin
photograph by lia anderholm
‘Phossy jaw’ (Google it if you dare) was one of the biggest, deadliest scourge of workers in the 18-19th century matchstick making industry, causing facial deformity, brain damage and glowing green bones. By extension, one might expect something more in the line of steam punk or black metal from a band adopting this as their name, but thankfully Massachusetts’ Fossy Jaw couldn’t be more different.
Maybe it’s the warmth of the production, or possibly Abi Flynn’s instantly accessible vocals, whatever, Fossy Jaw’s self-titled debut somehow removes the barrier between listener and the music. Each kick drum pounding thump hits squarely in the chest, every guitar string squeak and scratch cuts across the tension, keys pierce through the wash of sound, all in exactly the same way they do live. This all goes to enhance an already wholesome, ‘vintage’ feel which, in turn, makes it an even more engaging animal. After all, aren’t we just suckers for those gnarly guitars that remind us of sharing late night beers on empty basketball courts, lit by the phosphorescent glow of beat-up cars.
To reduce ‘Fossy Jaw’ to a trip down nostalgia’s winding lanes would be wrong, however. From the plaintive pining of track one, ‘Don’t Mind’ right through to the dreams of runaway lovers on closer, ‘Foresite’ we seem only to scratch the surface of what this band is about. On 8-minute centrepiece, ‘Hard One’, it’s as if each member gets spotlight time to just go with the flow, to explore their musical expression individually and collectively. While at times this approach is like a curious mix of gritty, heavier, oily textures violently separating from tranquil waters, on the whole the mix of diverse influences works. It’s best, though, when these opposing forces collide and embrace rather than fight, as on the rather magnificent ‘Chooze’, and again on ‘Oma’, where Flynn builds suspense through vocal restraint only to dash it all in a deliciously chaotic chorus of blistering guitars.
So there it is, ‘Fossy Jaw’ streaming below, cuts a path through the long-neglected undergrowth of late 80’s / early 90’s alternative rock Madder Rose, Magnapop or Blake Babies left behind. Infinitely more refreshing than a mere modern ‘refresh’ of such music, ‘Fossy Jaw’ incorporates scrappy, devilish twists and tongue-in-cheek sass making it a whole heap of fun to listen to.
‘Fossy Jaw’ is out now on Skip Jump Records, buy it here