Black Ends’ self-described gunk-pop is about as sweet as that wad of asphalt-crusted bubblegum you found stuck on the bottom of your favorite boots. Much like the legendary grunge bands that influenced the Seattle trio, Black Ends is artfully adept at smothering catchy pop and rock structures with toxic levels of grime; but please don’t call them “post-grunge”, the term used to describe the major label wave of flannel-clad bands trying to capitalize on grunge’s aesthetic. If you must, “post-post-grunge” may be more apt at capturing Black Ends’ reaction against this type of commercialization.
Further cementing this connection to the city’s rich musical history, the band’s sophomore EP of surrealist grunge, Stay Evil, was mixed and mastered by influential Seattle engineer Jack Endino (Nirvana’s Bleach, Mudhoney), whose thoughtful treatments emphasize the dynamics and clarity of the basement-recorded tracks without smoothing over their raw energy. Bandleader Nicolle Swims takes charge with commanding guitar playing, channeling catchy riffs and bluesy sensibilities through warped effects, scuzzy tones, and math rock joltiness. Beloved radio station KEXP, who describes the release as “a four-song foray into dark alternative rock, art-folk, and the contours of our minds when we are faced with treachery,” exclaims that “Swims’ instantly recognizable voice cuts through the din and grabs you, holding you into place while they sing their words — rubbed raw, cut deep, sometimes willfully obfuscated — in your face.” The recurring lyrical theme of social alienation is enhanced by Swims’ unique and cryptic vocal delivery that embraces their outsider status.
While both of their EP’s have garnered praise from multiple publications and have sold out of physical copies, those who have experienced Black Ends live know the band is most gripping in the context of their electric and dynamic performances. Swims’ alien blues are backed by a raucous rhythm section that seems to exponentially increase in telepathic chemistry with each show, tour, and festival date they play. Bassist Ben Swanson and drummer Jonny Modes are so tight they appear loose, like a runaway train threatening to veer off the rails at any moment, yet somehow managing to always be in the right place at the right time. Whether going off into a noisy freakout or a jammy detour the trio is always in sync and able to turn on a dime. If you haven’t had a chance to see Black Ends live, this is a train you won’t want to miss.