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Carbonas: Haterade

Even as Carbonas climb, the group finds comfort in brutal self-critiques



Greg King doesn't mince words when he goes out of his way to talk about how much he hates his band's first record. He seems to take pleasure in outlining just how awful everything is, from the recording itself to the way he uses his voice in the songs that make up Carbonas' 2002 debut full-length,

The Scene Killer.

"I hate it," King laughs. "I hate everything about it and I wish we would have never put it out."

As he continues, it becomes clear that he feels the same way regarding most of Carbonas' catalogue of disparate LPs and 7-inch singles, aside from a few songs here and there. But with a recently released third (but second self-titled) full-length on Memphis' Goner Records garnering international attention, Carbonas may have finally cranked out a record that he won't disown entirely, at least not yet.

Over the years the group's sound and personnel have endured constant change, settling on the current lineup that features vocalist King, along with drummer Dave Rahn, bassist Jesse Smith and guitarist Clay Kilbourne.

Since August of '01, Carbonas have been an integral part of the Atlanta punk scene. Look at any number of fliers for the earliest Black Lips shows and Carbonas' name is right there with them. But while the Black Lips have received wide acclaim on the pages of publications from Vice magazine to the New York Times, Carbonas maintain more of a grassroots agenda. Their face time comes via punk rock blogs and underground zines, like Maximum Rock N Roll.

And despite several stints playing shows across the country, the group refuses to play for guarantees, instead opting for the punk rock door deal when it comes time to get paid. How exactly that will pan out when the group embarks on its first European tour later this month remains to be seen.

Carbonas' willful embrace of obscurity, succession of creepy album covers, and songwriting that channels street-hardened melancholy through short, sharp punk anthems have fostered a mystique that surrounds the group. It's a mysterious sound and image that continually attracts new listeners. And even if King can't stand the sight of Carbonas' early releases, the rest of the punk record-buying world doesn't agree.

The Scene Killer LP that he hates so much has sold on eBay for upward of $100. What's more, a prerelease version of Carbonas latest self-titled album with photocopied cover art that was made just so the group would have something to sell at the Goner Festival in Memphis last year fetches an equally high price tag.

Indeed, Carbonas' fans are a rabid lot and their needs are only fueled further by the group's sparse output.

The heavier, unrefined chug of Carbonas' earliest incarnation is far removed from the precise shotgun blast of punk rock energy that explodes on the new full-length. With songs such as "Phone Booth," "Trapped in Hell" and "Assvogel," guitarist Kilbourne's robotic, metal-tinged style laid down on a Telecaster guitar bestows the band with a backbone of razor-sharp slices over hard-hitting rhythms. It results in a balance of restraint, brevity and bounding enthusiasm.

The album swells with a rock 'n' roll compulsion that transcends Carbonas' prior releases. Guitarist Josh Martin, who has since left the group, lays down a string of solos throughout the record that could have been lifted from any classic punk record circa '77.

"I don't understand Carbonas' attitude toward the past," adds the group's bassist, Jesse Smith, who also fronts the band Gentleman Jesse & His Men. "For them, the group is like a child that they're trying to protect. I understand that puberty is awkward for everyone, but at some point you have to let it go," he continues, adding that even up until the end of 2007 the group was still playing the song "She's A Headache" from the first album.

"They hate everything that they put out. They'll hate this record in a year."

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