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***Milwaukee-to-Austin transplant DREW SCHMITZ has made his presence felt in bands ranging from BRAIN ATTACK, GREMLINS UK, PARTY GARBAGE and most recently as the 4th wheel in the long-running paragon-of-excellence that is THE HEX DISPENSERS. All of those cultural contributions aside, the one project of Drew’s that probably most relevant to this discussion is the trio known as CRUDDY, whose 2011 12XU LP Negative World was one of the year’s more acclaimed releases, and Schmitz’ bleaker-than-bleak worldview (to say nothing of inventive guitar work) was an awfully big part of that. Fast forward a few years and armed with a new rhythm section, Schmitz’ newly formed EMPTY MARKETS aren’t entirely removed from the vision of Cruddy (you’ve got the same fella yelling and playing guitar, no arguing that) but am I allowed to use the dreaded word PROGRESSION without morphing into Alan Parsons? Make no mistake, on Stainless Steel, engineer IAN RUNDELL (fresh off recent knob-jobs for Spray Paint, The Rebel and Xetas) has captured the tumult, the agitation, and perhaps most importantly, the precision of Empty Markets in glorious fashion. There’s few other bands mining this sort of territory with nearly as much confidence or as little concession to genre considerations. If Cruddy was a grim snapshot of a hopeless future, Empty Markets is a Hasalbald-quality, full-scale portrait of a hopeless present. If you find an occasional moment of daylight seeping thru, please trust it wasn’t a manufacturing error.