Million Dollar Marxists - Zero Culture (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Million Dollar Marxists

Zero Culture (2006)


I'll admit Million Dollar Marxists' first full-length Give It a Name might not have been highly original. However, if that release proved anything it was that M$M were a cathartic ball of pure rock 'n' roll fury in the tradition of the New Bomb Turks and the Pagans. The two years in between that album and their latest, Zero Culture, have proven to be particularly affecting for the band. On the surface there has been both a label shift and some personnel movement for these Ottawa natives, but at first listen not much seems to be different. Superficially the band has maintained their brand of garage-inflected punk 'n' roll. Not all is as it seems, though. On their previous record there were tinges of a darker, more sinister quality to the music but it was still arguably fun listen. This album however is not a "fun" listen, no, rather it is a lightless cavern of desolation, but an incredibly enjoyable one at that.

A good deal of garage-y bands tend to have their albums rely on the sum of their parts rather than individuality in the parts themselves. This isn't always a bad thing, but making each song standout strongly on their own is one undeniable asset M$M has for themselves with Zero Culture. From the noisy guitar clash of the title song and the strong bass-driven groove of "X Street" to the haunting country-influenced "In Nightmares" with its howling guitar, each song is its own. One of the most musically interesting songs on the record is "Lust Radiates;" it opens with rolling drums and a somber guitar lead (which as odd as it sounds almost has a twinkly/mid-`90s emo quality to it) and smoothly transfers into a pounding verse with enough swagger to make AC/DC proud. On their past release the band, like much of their ilk, relied on bits of clever wit to stand out but this time things are a little different. There isn't any immediately striking one-liners but every song has well thought out and more importantly literate lyrics. Overall they tend to be fairly non-specific but help to build overall feelings of desperation, alienation and disillusionment. The band's talent for catchy choruses thankfully remains intact throughout, especially on "Praise the Mutilated World."

Million Dollar Marxists have a highly touted stage show, often credited to front-man Luke "Nuclear" Martin. Martin has successfully transferred that effort into his portion of the record. He runs the gamut from straightforward mid-paced singing ("Praise the Mutilated World"), urgent jilted shouts ("Zero Culture"), and frantic bursts ("Pangs of Creation") to a hypnotic semi-drone ("In Nightmares").

If there is one shortcoming the record has it is that it is…well…short. After two years you'd think the band would have a little something more than seven songs on an album (there are eight, but one is just a small between-song mood piece). I suppose it is better that they recorded seven really strong songs rather than adding a bunch of filler. Even the production and mixing of the album highlight the good qualities of the band. The vocals aren't too low in the mix and all the instrumentation is sharply present. With the inclusion of keys in some parts and a new approach to their craft, M$M have been able to evolve without abandoning their roots either. If you enjoy rock 'n' roll that is catchy and thoughtfully written you should have no problem falling into this album (hint: if you liked Riverboat Gamblers' To the Confusion of Our Enemies).