The steely, sinewy Conformists take it back to zero with None Hundred. Of course, the band has always employed a Spartan-like minimalism, and this album relishes the industrial sterility of interlocking parts. Unlike the years-long delays that hindered the release of 2007's Three Hundred and 2004's Two Hundred, the band recorded the six-song set this past March, making it the freshest batch of wiry, pneumatic tracks it's released. Once again, the Conformists returned to Chicago's Electrical Audio and recorded with Big Black/Shellac legend Steve Albini. But after nearly fifteen years of creating noisy, relentless songs of careful composition and raw destruction, the quartet doesn't need a big-name engineer to capture its vision.
Noise-rock is a tricky, usually misleading term that gets thrown at the Conformists, but the band's greatest strength is its use of restraint: It knows how and when to unleash a guitar squall and when to cut it teasingly short. The incremental tempo shifts that kick off "Jesus Was a Shitty Carpenter" evince these players' extra-sensory understanding of their truncated rhythms and sharp, stabbing guitar lines. Mike Benker's vocals are clearer this time around, and on a song such as "Swim Home" he's confident to dramatically speak-sing, instead of settling into his usual full-throttle howl. The appropriately named "Pro Gear, Pro Attitude" ends the album with a cycle of melodic, meditative guitar-plucks, as a harmonically enhanced bass line locks in with cymbal splashes. After methodically climbing a mountain of burgeoning intensity, Benker provides the necessary cathartic release and lets his bandmates assist on the comedown. – Christian Schaeffer