Apathy is to punk rock what Iraqi POWs with electrodes attached to their genitals are to Donald Rumsfeld—a worst-case-scenario anathema to the overarching mission, perpetuated by ghoulish middlemen while the big bosses nap at the switch. Hey, it's bad enough being an unmotivated horse's ass on this incredible planet; writing nursery-school punk about everything vaguely sucking is unforgivable. "Man, living in my parents' Redmond mansion blows, but Good Charlotte make me wanna break stuff. Wonder if they sell guitars at Best Buy . . . ?" actually flies these days.
The Catheters—an Eastside quartet who formed in high school and are coming off what is all but a concept album about lethargy, 2002's Static Delusions and Stone-Still Days—somehow not only avoided the soy un perdidor snake pit but leapt over it like Indiana Jones, fists, bullwhip, wit, and rugged sex appeal ablaze. They literally convey the frustration of wanting to do, you know, something to change your life, but, lacking the intellectual, financial, etc., means, giving in to boob-tube boredom, not coming out on top in the end, and then (here's the good part) beating a brick wall until your knuckles shred into hamburger. With the exception of spiraling minihit "Nothing," they don't do anthems, and they don't do pop-punk; they simply ruminate— feverishly—on the uphill battles of youth in a way that's relevant and exciting to a crustier adult punk audience.
"I would feel sort of awkward writing stuff that wasn't like that," frontman Brian Standeford asserts. "When we were learning to play music, we were listening to stuff, like Black Flag, that's sort of over-the-top angsty, exaggerating and purging all of your frustrations through music. It's really hard for me to write lyrics, so when I sit down to do it, I inevitably get frustrated with myself, and that sort of puts me in that kind of mood."
His band is an unpretentious punk-rock installation-in-progress, unashamed to admit that the reason it took so damn long to create Static's less-accessible art-noise follow-up, the new Howling . . . It Grows and Grows!!! (Sub Pop), is because they "might not have been there, ability- wise," to compose the songs they'd been hearing in their heads. Behind the trusty knobs of local producer/mixer John Goodmanson (the hell with Barry Bonds hitting .400; between Sleater-Kinney, the Blood Brothers, and the Catheters, the dude's a supplement-free, first-ballot Hall of Famer), practice made just the right kind of imperfect. Opener "No Natural Law" is a rambunctious statement of intent from guitarists Standeford and Derek Mason, who play like they're feeding cats to blenders. Drummer Davey Brozowski and bassist Leo Gebhardt aren't so concerned with complementary thuds and grooves as leaping into bold intrasong tangents and rubber banding back to conventional form when needed. Howling's a hell of a challenge, not as immediately satisfying as its predecessor, but certainly more the Catheters' and the Catheters' alone.
In their early 20s now, the Catheters are still—more or less—kids who want to rock for kids, but Seattle's ravenous all-ages scene might require some serious study hall to catch up on its heroes' recent '60s and '70s influences. "It's hard to go see a band if you have a massive record collection," Standeford concedes, "and maybe you don't get excited about things because they don't meet up to your standards
"For this one, we were getting into getting a bit noisier . . . I guess 'free-form' is the word, but still within the context of songs," Standeford explains. "Like Ron Asheton's guitar style on the first two Stooges records: He doesn't really know how to solo, but he's just going for it anyway. We were listening to stuff that's a bit more obtuse or whatever, like Pere Ubu or Electric Eels, how they do a lot of skronky, noisy guitar solos."
You'd think American Idol redhead John Stevens would have better luck belting Rat Pack standards at a Metallica show than the Catheters playing for the safety pin set, but Standeford blows off any potential disconnect: "They're not necessarily into the stuff we're into, but they probably just don't know about it yet."
If the kids or the nonkids connect—one thing about Catheters shows is that you rarely see supposedly jaded adults getting so fired up during sound check—they'll do so with four regular-bloke rock nerds. Standeford isn't eagerly anticipating another video after being so hands-off for "Nothing," but, between gushing about Comets on Fire and '70s psych, he wouldn't be opposed to exploring the scratch animation flair of Dinosaur Jr. and Pussy Galore efforts, either. In the interim, he might also want to flip through some Dorothy Parker, who famously noted, "The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." Then she formed an Offspring cover band.
The Catheters play Easy Street Records (Queen Anne), 20 Mercer St., 206-691-3279 at 6 p.m. Tues., May 18. NC.