The first time I really listened to Back to Back was in 2012. I was a senior in high school, and looking back I realize that my taste in music was very impressionable. I wasn’t very familiar with punk and hardcore at the time, so even I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed Back to Back’s second EP Flesh and Bone. The vocals are viscous and the guitars are fast and brutal. It was equal parts psychedelic and punk. It was dark, mesmerizing, and I loved it.
Back to Back doesn’t really play shows anymore, which is a shame. I cherish the times I saw them at the now defunct Mango’s in Montrose. I’m still pretty bummed I didn’t get to see them play their last show. But guitarist Barry Elkanick has kept himself busy since Back to Back’s passing. He is the drummer of Institute — Austin’s post-punk darlings — and a fairly accomplished artist. He’s had a couple exhibitions in Houston and his works have graced the album covers of Secret Prostitutes and Destruction Unit.
Elkanick has also worked on some solo music as Chalk. He’s put out two tapes under that name and both are a natural continuation of what he has worked on, both artistically and musically. In The Young Shadow of Girls in Flowers and Why I Hate Men are two separate tape releases, but they feel like two sides on the same record.
In The Young Shadow of Girls in Flowers is spacey and cool. The record is guitar driven, but synths and drum pads add some nice strokes of color throughout the record. “Harmony in Red” kicks off Side A and it is easily one of my favorite songs on the record. Sampled shakers enter the speakers and a pair of dueling, reverb drenched guitars kick in soon after. The guitars are clean, but they pack the song with an anxious sense of urgency. They remind me of the lonely, lucid guitar tones of Felt, but they feel much darker. I imagine this song being played on a huge Gretsch Country Gentlemen guitar going through a pair of Fender Twin Reverbs. “My New Gun” and “Dark Seam” showcase Elkanick’s vocals. They are calm, cool, and they remind me of Lou Reed at times. “Emotional Ties with Earth” is another standout on the record. This warping, droning guitar riff is strummed repeatedly while this flanging synth pulses and pans in and out of the speakers. “Great Mother” has this incredible horizonless soundscape at the end of it, and it sounds amazing. The synths on this record are simple but extremely dense. They add a lot of beautiful textures throughout the record.
Elkanick returns to familiar ground on Why I Hate Men. I thought the music on this tape would be similar to In The Young Shadow of Girls in Flowers, but it is much closer to Elkanick’s punk and post-punk roots. “Nobody is Coming to Save Us” is a haunting introduction to the tape. This pulsing noise accompanies this collage of howling, wolflike synths. “New Mexico” starts with another sampled beat, but the music kicks in with a full band after a couple of measures. The song is dark and gothic, and Elkanick’s vocals are dry and drone-like. He sounds British at times. The song then fades into “Lizard King,” an interlude that sounds like it’s being played on a warped record. “Litany of Words” is definitely the stand-out on this tape. The song has an energy that reminds me of The Coneheads and early Ice Age. “Darling Daintyfoot” brings the tape to a long, droning end.
I highly suggest people check out these two tapes, especially if they are fans of Elkanick’s other projects. He has also worked on projects like Blue Dolphin and Wild Thing, and all of those releases can be found on his YouTube channel.
Chalk will be opening for The Young on Dec. 9 at Barracuda in Austin, Texas. You can purchase the In The Young Shadow of Girls in Flowers tape here.