Two Parts Viper
Josh Scogin is a frontman of many feats. While most people know and love him from his time in The Chariot or his earlier days in Norma Jean, it is the bluesy noise rock duo ’68 that currently takes to the foreground. With drummer Michael McClellan by his side, the two have put together a sophomore record, Two Parts Viper, that can easily rival their debut.
’68 is first and foremost a band to be heard live. Out of all the times I have seen them perform, not once have I heard any sort of base regurgitation of a recording. Hence every track on Two Parts Viper leaves a lot of room for on-stage interpretation—there’s a ton of seemingly arbitrary instrumental interludes dropped within the tracks that will serve their purpose apart from the album itself. And it’s this kind of artistic thought that makes ’68 so intense, but also so magnificent.
If Scogin hadn’t been a known face in the hardcore scene it might at first seem as if this band was making noise in their basement to piss off their parents upstairs. But below the surface, Two Parts Viper is highly sophisticated and unexpectedly explores a softer side of the band not really seen on prior releases. Fans of their debut, In Humor and Sadness, are guaranteed to like the record’s openers, “Eventually We All Will Win” and “Whether Terrified or Unafraid,” but after ’68 shows fans they still have kept to their old ways, they throw in a curve ball with “Without Any Words (Only Crying and Laughter).” It’s toned down and dark with a real Robert Smith meets Nirvana Unplugged vibe carrying throughout it. There’s no screaming, just melodies and build up, and somehow it fits beautifully into the aesthetic ’68 has been carrying all this time, sans some of the crazy antics.
This expansion of sonic dimension extends to more tracks like “No Apologies,” which feels like what would happen if you ever put a thespian in a rock band with a western twang. It is impossible to ignore the grunge influences Scogin and McClellan are shedding upon this record. This new wave grunge can be found on tracks like “What More Can I Say” and stems as an integrated influence rather than a carbon copy of the original. The heavier aspects within the vocals to the drums to the “gee-tar” are the defining factor that separate the generational genre gaps.
’68 has always been skilled at making a song simultaneously sound both abrasive and endearingly catchy, especially with “Life is Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue.” And this is mainly due to the riffs rather than the vocal melodies, though the noticeable reliance on “woahs” instead of actual lyrics on many of the tracks does add a pop twinge to their sound.
While ’68 may forgo words for melodic hums at certain times, this should not take away from the lyrical prowess presented in Two Parts Viper. “Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong. Death is quick, but it can last so long” is the stand out line on “Death Is A Lottery.” Even the trippy epic “Life Has Its Design” utilizes a great deal of word play where deciphering some of the lyrics contains that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” “hello vs. how low” ideology. Is Scogin saying “repair” or “repent”? And does his verbiage even matter in context to the song?
Unlike their debut, Two Parts Viper is a little more subdued. “No Montage” and “What More Can I Say” drag a bit in context with the rest of the album leaving the listener wanting more of a punch at times. But, this added solemnity allows for a more commercial feel without sounding like a sellout. Could ’68 be a new face of grunge revival? Perhaps, but it will be a revival that dominates the underground far more than the mainstream rock world, and that’s exactly what the scene needs.