Celluloid Lunch

Surveillance - Less Than One, More Than Zero LP

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News came through while getting comfortable with the sounds of Surveillance’s debut album Less Than One, More Than Zero that guitarists/vocalists Dave Burns and Rachel Fry were to be married later that week. Not having access to their registry, I suppose I could send a chafing dish, though to be fair their record is burning brightly enough to heat up whatever canapes might await in their ostensibly long life together.

After an initial blast of activity in the mid-‘10s, which produced a 7” single that I found quite fetching, and a number of cassettes that I hadn’t the good fortune to hear, activity around Surveillance proved sporadic, as did information about them (here I was in Chicago, here they were in Halifax). I was delighted to find their Planet Serum tape through an American punk distro during the pandemic pause (hey, what better time to unearth forgotten studio recordings, right? Also, how many other musical acts named Surveillance would trickle down that path?) and with it came some weird close-talkin’ vibes couching top-flyte buzzsaw song-based material – the band I really liked before was still in there, plowing away, intact in the presence of hard-hitter Tri Le on the drums and eventual addition of Ben Brennan in the pocket on bass. Which leads us to this album, a purity test of sorts that hearkens, for some, back to a time of greater innocence, tempered with the expectations of now.

There’s grunge, there’s flyin’ the flannel, and the piney, open-air, guitar-stacks-to-the-bluest-skies approach Surveillance takes on this one that’ll instantly touch a gritty nerve to a lot of listeners – both Amherst Dinosaur before the Jr and Donna Dresch hair-windmill era, that Solomon Grundy LP on New Alliance, the top layer of pop iceberg-bobbing in the violent diagonals of Eastern seaboard shoegaze, patchouli, your aunt’s surprisingly deep cabinet of folk records, the leftover gear of uncles and burnouts to rattle the windows with, chain smoking over a bottomless cup of coffee in an all night diner with somebody elses and everything to talk about between you, artificially cheap fossil fuels and one car/maybe one license between all of you. I don’t know where these folks fall in the age range to have experienced this sort of thing, what the rituals were in their adolescence and the early years of underemployed freedom, but something’s been activated here in these 11 songs, like a smell or sense memory, a match lit, a breath visible in the chilly air, that’s bringing it all back.

I’m especially taken with Rachel Fry’s vocals – not gonna mention whose they remind me of, as I’ve done enough extrapolating here already. The words she’s singing on songs like “On My Way,” “Iron Rose” and “Last Breath” offset Burns’ righteous anger with a defiance of her own. There’s a big goddamn difference between aching teenage lovage and the questions asked in these songs, but they come from the same place – an overwhelming feeling of deep emotions, and the innate desire for trust beyond those feelings to protect it and the people it touches. Love is great and all, but some of us need to be sure, and these songs represent the challenge of a commitment: to unite and stay together, through lives lived, projects started and reconvened to make certain that magic is true.

Surveillance started something and are sticking around to continue it. In an era of woeful impermanence, that’s gotta be worth something. – Doug Mosurock, a fan

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