Failing is Fun (Koi)
by Scott Deckman
Seemingly influenced by hardcore punk and comic books equally, Killed by the Bull play fast, menacing punk with tongues planted firmly in cheek. Failing is Fun shows you don’t always have to win to, well, have fun. Upon hearing them the first time, the first band I thought of was the Dead Kennedys, and sure enough, a quick look on the band’s Myspace page reveals the San Francisco legends sitting número dos on their influences list. I also hear the Damned (next on said list), System of a Down (vocally, at least) and the Causey Way.
“What’s Inside” starts off bouncy and brings the paranoia, like most of the early songs on the record. A schizophrenic meditation that mixes blazing hardcore one minute and chunky guitars the next, it’s a lament on mental illness with the possibility of future violence. “Return of the Spell” is even faster than song previous, a punk rock bullet train, and it reminds one of post-Danzig Misfits (who, wouldn’t you know it, are number one on that damned list of influences). And this is not necessarily a bad thing for fans of the band’s superb 1999 Danzig-less effort Famous Monsters. And it’s too bad Killed by the Bull didn’t further develop – or develop differently – “Amanda O’Dwyer,” because it has pop potential.
Mostly instrumental, “Run Free… from the White Light” showcases their musical chops, and it also shows they can play in different textures. So does “Let the Sky Glow,” another mostly-instrumental track. It’s a laid-back, beachy thing, and I think these two songs are the album’s strongest tracks. Unfortunately, it also underscores what some will have a hard time getting into: Justin Fullam’s voice. It’s an acquired taste, and I find it easier to digest the band themselves (of which Fullam’s guitar is certainly a part of). Killed by the Bull really are a talented punk rock band. Gordon Gano seemed out of this world the first time you listened to him too, remember? But once you got it, you couldn’t listen to anything but the Violent Femmes for awhile. I’m not predicting the same for Fullam, but stranger things have happened. (And I’m not making this up, listening to this record the first time I noticed song nine was titled “I’ll Never Tell,” much like song three from the Violent Femmes’ Hallowed Ground, which is titled “Never Tell.” Just saying…)
There’s a dangerous, madhouse quality to much of Killed by the Bull’s music many will like or feel unnerved by, maybe both at the same time. But unlike, say, death metal, where you know they want to stomp a hole in you, these guys skate that thin line: Are they good or evil? Maybe that’s what makes some hardcore – or rock music in general – so compelling: The degree of ambivalence involved. Shit, I guess you could replace “rock music” with “life” in that sentence and it would ring true as well. Inscrutability is Killed by the Bull’s koan.