It almost seems like everything Baltimore musician and producer J. Robbins touches is influential gold. He has been in several bands in his decades of music but the three he has fronted — Channels, Burning Airlines, and Jawbox are considered some of the most influential bands of the post-punk era. In addition, Robbins is a master producer, engineering records for such bands as Clutch, Hey Mercedes, Shiner, Life and Times, Dismemberment Plan, Promise Ring, Jawbreaker, Against Me!, and Murder By Death just to name a few.
In 2003, Robbins (vocals, guitar) assembled the band Channels with his wife, bassist and co-lead singer, Janet Morgan, and Darren Zentek of Kerosene 454 and Oswego behind the drum kit. The band released an EP and a full length respectively and hit the road with Kristen Hersh’s trio 50 Foot Wave. As the band began their upswing things came to a screeching halt in 2007 when Robbins and Morgan’s son was diagnosed with the rare neuromuscular disorder Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
As Robbins and Morgan reprioritized their lives, all three band members did go on to work with other projects, but Channels always had that “what if” factor. Never officially disbanding, Recently Robbins, Morgan and Zentek regrouped even though the married couple lived in Baltimore and Zentek resided in D.C. It was like no time had elapsed and it was fun. Feeding off each other’s creativity and the recent election, Channels recorded a pair of politically-charged post-punk gems and released them inauguration day.
Side A features Robbins reflection on Brexit, xenophobia and the manipulation of nationalistic fears in the face of an uncertain future on “Airstrip One.” Zentek’s rumbling drums carry the songs as Morgan’s rolling bass line and chants complement the clean guitar picking and lead vocals of Robbins. Flip the wax over and you are treated once again with “Backpfeifengesicht,” a German compound word whose various translations include “a face in search of a lead pipe.” Fittingly the track is a look into the recent disastrous US election. Morgan’s beautiful melodies balance out Robbins’ stark and discontent vocals. It is magic, the way these two feed off each other when sharing lead vocals. Again, Zentek’s drumming is beautifully heavy handed and Morgan’s opening bass line is a teeth rattler.
With the future looking very scary and uncertain, at least it has brought back one of the best east coast bands there ever was. And with this 7-inch is showing a lot of moxie, it looks only to be the beginning for a triumphant Channels comeback.