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The Gothic and the Gospel

Partisan's ambitious debut shows a band ready to rock

In a metropolitan area already receiving international attention for its music scene, one of the most surprising musical debuts of the year is by a little-known band called Partisan.

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On The Gothic and the Gospel (Reason Y Records), Partisan uses hardcore punk as a starting point, then leaps into experimental noise, post-rock and countless other stylistic shifts with the unpredictability and ferocity of a beast. Its standout track, "Music Is the Weapon," mixes a backing chorus and multiple tempo changes into an incredibly empowering experience. The song pays homage to a 2001 Georgia state Capitol rally against the changing of the state flag and the more recent anti-war movement. "It is reflective of the first two significant political protests that I was a part of, ones I will remember for the rest of my life," says lead vocalist Clint Nelms. During the song's penultimate moment, a chorus chants out over nothing but hand claps: "I know right from wrong/and I'm aware what's going on."

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The Gothic and the Gospel is more than a political rant. It draws strength from the seven-member band (along with several guests): Nelms' growly vocals, drummer Santiago Junca's polyrhythmic beats, and Lee Tesche's mordant, straight-laced guitar lines are mashed up into a sound remarkably multilayered for a hardcore record. Bryan Akers, who plays drums and saxophone, calls the sound "Fugazi meets Fela Kuti."

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"For a freshman effort, it's extremely ambitious," says Guillermo "Moe" Castro, owner of Reason Y Records. "Whatever you may think of it — you may not like it, you may not understand it or just not dig what they're doing — you can't deny that there's a lot of ambition there. They try to do different things and play with different sounds. As far as I'm concerned, it's a great freshman effort."

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As a fledgling label owner, Castro has his own story to tell. A 32-year-old Puerto Rican born in New Jersey, he grew up in Florida, and went to college in Boston. After eight years in Beantown, he headed back to South Florida, lived in Miami and Deerfield, and then finally settled in Decatur.

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"I just bought a house a year ago, and I'm getting my master's degree at Georgia State," says Castro, who works at an advertising firm. "My wife's pregnant and getting ready to have a baby. We're going to raise a family and do the whole thing. We're here for a good while."

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He formed Reason Y Records in Boston. "I started a site called justreasony.com that helped local bands in Boston and helped promote them," says Castro. "I put up show dates and featured bands I liked. It started out like that. And then the first record I did was in 2001. It was a compilation of mostly bands in the Boston area." The name Reason Y, says Castro, is a name inspired by the punk community's can-do attitude: The things you love, or the music you love, is the reason why you live, the reason why you do things and the reason why you're put on this earth. (His current site is www.reasonyrecords.com.)

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Over the next three years while moving around, Castro continued to work with bands he liked, including Boston punk groups Bird Gets the Smile and Never Only Once, and New York math-rock band Timber. When he came to Atlanta, he received a demo tape from a promising local band, Paper Champions. "That's when I started getting serious about the label," he says.

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On the heels of two EPs by the Paper Champions, including this year's End.Transmission, comes Partisan's The Gothic and the Gospel. Even though it is probably Reason Y Records' best release to date, Castro is modest about its prospects. "Until I come into a little bit more money, or someone happens to break and get a little bit bigger, my goal is to break even on these records and have enough money to put out the next one," he says.