Taco Riffs

The Austerity Program’s Justin Foley and the Search for the GREATEST TACO RIFF OF ALL TIME


The Austerity Program’s Justin Foley and the Search for the GREATEST TACO RIFF OF ALL TIME

In 1992 or so, someone who must have inherited a few oil wells figured that it’d be a good idea to give some of that scratch to the Beastie Boys so that they could publish their own magazine. I don’t think you have to like them as a band or even as a cultural force to appreciate what it must have been like for these guys to get that first check. “You wrote a date rape anthem called ‘Fight for Your Right to Party’ and then proceeded to ignite doctoral dissertations with your next record. Here’s a shitload of cash so that you can indulge the spohomoric writing whims of you and your friends.” Even after the beepers of every weed dealer south of 34th Street finally stopped buzzing, there was plenty of moolah left over to stage photo shoots, subsidize starving indie writers, and pay for a die cut to assemble your own bootie bass jeep from the back cover.

Of course it all went bust, but the most lasting cultural impression of that cash vacuum were the metal record reviews that happened in the third or fourth issue, where the guy correctly identified records by Eyehategod, Today is the Day, 16, and one other band I don’t remember as being the shit we all had to go buy. I knew enough about TDID to take the cue, and so went out and bought the other three. And the most important thing in this review was the guy talking about was “Taco Riffs.”  When you heard those records, you knew exactly – EXCATLY – what he was talking about.

My noble band-mate Thad Calabrese and I have never had any confusion or even any discussion about what a Taco Riff is. It’s just the two of us, and so some late nights driving back from an ill-conceived show we’ll be playing “Strap It On” just to stay awake. Side 2 kicks in, the band clears away “FBLA” and then they rip it with “Blacktop.” And that “chorus” riff, accented the second time through with the vocals – “Walk on top. And you run beneath…” – we’ll just look at each other and won’t even have to say. Fucking Taco Riff. YES.

Funny enough, we found out that not everyone had this understanding seared in their DNA like we did. So here’s something like an explanation: a Taco Riff is the heaviest part of a song – sometimes the whole song – where the guitar, bass and drums lock together and make the world melt in a moment of undeniable pleasure. Picture this – if you were a sophomore in high school and the senior who ran your packed car pool said “Hey, The Cure is so much better than metal, right? I mean, what is it that you like about metal so much?”, the Taco Riff is what you would want cued up on the cassette you pass forward from the back seat.

Not enough, eh? Hmm. Well, there are two things I can say about Taco Riffs that are clear:

  1. Taco Riffs don’t depend on the what’s happening with the rest of the song. They are what they are all on their own. Now that the Tamil Tigers are no longer a going military concern, everyone of consequence agrees that the hugest, heaviest riff is the final guitar bit of “Good Morning, Captain” by Slint. This an undeniable fact, like gravity. But that’s only because the whole song (and probably the whole album) has been deliberately constructed just to deliver that moment – it’s pretty astonishing. To be fair, though, that riff doesn’t deliver on its own; it’s transcendent because of all that has been building up to it. But the Taco Riff does not need the rest of the song. Really, the rest of the song is usually just window dressing (and that’s fine).
  2. There are only two things in metal that rival the glory of the Taco Riff. One is the muted 16th note melody line matched with a double bass drum – Bolt Thrower pull this shit all over “The IVth Crusade” and it rules. The other thing is very specific – 1:04 into “Dawn of a New Age” by Satyricon: Satyr delivers a “DIIIIEEE” that is incredible. This actually isn’t relevant to the discussion at hand other than to say that Bolt Thrower and Satyricon both peaked after about two records and those peaks are fantastic.

Sorry. Maybe only one thing.

So this is the idea – I want to know the greatest Taco Riff of all time. I want to go on a pilgrimage: to the heights of academia, to the dull and scratchy vinyl of 70s rock, to the beer soaked amplifiers of a NOLA basement show, to the hazy feet of the Dopethrone and beyond all that. I am convinced that somewhere – buried and forgotten on some B-side of an otherwise shitty record or maybe enshrined above the entrance of the Rock and Roll Hall of fame where we all know it to be – the riff is there. And I’m going to find it. The Greatest Taco Riff of All Time.

Here’s my vague plan to proceed. First, I encourage all and any suggestions, demands or ideas that any commenter or his/her cat has about what it is. Post it and it’ll get a listen. If it’s a real killer, I’ll broadcast in the next post. Second, this is a pilgrimage, not a science experiment. I have only a minor interest in the technical/academic qualities of what might be the components of the goal here. It is not in the spirit of this to create an analytical spreadsheet model or the ideal notational breakdown of what such a riff must be. Third, I’ve got to figure out a way with the MS guys to actually be able to include a quickly listenable link to at least one song per post.

To that end, here’s my current, gun-to-my-head vote. In 1996, Eyehategod pulled together their nearly impossible-to-listen-to best work, at least by my ears. “Nearly impossible” because any moment where you could catch your breath is patched with wailing, unwavering guitar feedback that is the anti-Excedrin. But “nearly” because there are some incredible Taco Riffs that are the pillars of this record. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “Metamphetamine,” where they clearly created the riff of their careers and didn’t even bother to write any more parts to the song. Here is that fucker, and it is a force of nature:

Eyehategod, “Metamphetamine” (taco riff sample)

This is going to be fun.


Justin Foley plays guitar and sings for the Austerity Program.  Their record Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn is out 5/4/10.  Visit them online at www.austerityprogram.com.  All messages about urban bike riding, vegetarian BBQ and monetary policy will be answered first.

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