Tuesday, March 1, 2011

98 The Hard Way: EPs, Day One

Unlike the eventual album posts, I'm not going to segregate the different rating levels here, if only because when I can go through 4+ releases a day I want a bit of quality variation on top of the stylistic variation. Also, the ratings are bound to change since all a lot of these got was a gut reaction after one or two listens. But onward and upward we go...

Barcode / Ex-Ignota: Split 7" (Hymnal Sound)
There's a quality disparity between the two sides here that's almost comical. I mean, nothing against Barcode but you put some just this side of adequate first generation screamo - think Mohinder without the bass presence - next to the much more fully realized and composed entry from Ex-Ignota and things don't come out looking too great for them. That said, I do think that they're on to something with "Barney Chemistry," which dials back the attack of its surroundings into a much more moody and ultimately resonant shard of a song. Really, if I heard a whole 7" of Barcode's material I think I might be a bit less dismissive of it, but when it's put up against Ex-Ignota's "Overfed" it just feels that much more slight. "Overfed" is a show-stopper, shifting effortlessly between psychedelic sludge, spiky post-punk and straight up melodic hardcore and showing a degree of compositional skill that most of their contemporaries would kill for. It makes me sad that so little of Ex-Ignota's material was ever officially released, because it's obvious that they were a talented group. I'm markedly less disappointed in Barcode similar lack of material. That should tell you all you need to know. [7.2/10]

Download link and image courtesy of Unsavory Palindrome

Gasp / Volume 11: Welcome to the Cosmos (Witching Hour)
Chaos is at the heart of both sides of this record, but it's approached in different ways. One side treats chaos as its raison d'etre, creating an environment where you're surrounded by maelstrom wherever you turn. The other thrives on the notion that for chaos to really make a mark it has to come out of something, be the endgame as opposed to the game in and of itself. As it is, one approach works better, but that's not to say that the other isn't without its charms.

Even though it's technically the B-side here I'll talk about Volume 11 first because they're the easier nut to crack. Volume 11's side is pure chaos, barely letting a furious 4-count on the snare escape each track before everyone starts playing at odd angles with each other. But the key is that within that chaotic framework there is structure that emerges. There's those repeated guitar breaks in "Intravenous Solution" that call to mind Orchid, the groove riff in "Wanderings" that seems to be little more than a hiccup in the playing but then comes back a few seconds later to underpin a third of the song. Those moments give the chaos some necessary grounding, give the individual songs, brief though they are, enough character that they work as separate entities as opposed to all fading together into a simple maelstrom. Avoiding this trap gives it a leg up on a lot of its contemporaries.

Gasp are the tougher nut to crack, but unlike their even more impenetrable - and even better for the record - full length the structure of their side here is more readily apparent. On either end you've got what might pass for post-rock, or at least instrumental post-hardcore, and in the middle you've got a nugget of their own brand of power-violence. The buzzing guitar, the instruments never quite in sync, the treated vocals, all condensed into one minute in the middle of two tracks that call to mind Boris before anyone else. It could come off as awkward, but instead it imbues both modes with additional power. The chaos feels earned, the build up feels complete and the denouement feels earned. Even more impressive is that it doesn't feel like two different bands alternating, but one band that can be both expansive and compact at its own will.

What it boils down to is that Gasp's side is carefully considered chaos while Volume 11's is just chaos. It's not a mark against V11 to say that because they do straight up chaos as well as (if not better than) any of their contemporaries, but the sense of a journey that I get from Gasp's side is hard to top. [7.9/10]

Division of Laura Lee / Impel: A Split Seveninch Record (Carcrash)
It's pretty obvious that Division of Laura Lee are ridiculously indebted to Refused's first two albums at this stage of their career. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially since it's preferable to the ridiculously Interpol indebted band they became a few years later, but "44" is really just not that impressive as a song. It comes off as a bunch of hastily thrown together parts that rarely make a compelling whole. Compare it to Impel, who are equally indebted to an obvious forebear - Fugazi - but who marry that to a very well composed song in "Going for the Throat...Again." Once again, it kinda seems like a hodgepodge of a few different ideas, but Impel have the skill to get them to work together. Plus it's got a nice consistency of mood that DOLL lacks. Essentially it's another case where the split format winds up being unfair to one of the acts contained therein by pairing them with a band that are just better all around than they are. [7.3/10]

Download link and image courtesy of JoliCouer

All Scars: Bushu (Ace Fu)

Imagine what Morphine would sound like if they ditched the saxophone and tried to meet Big Black halfway. That's as close as I can get to a description of what All Scars offer here. It looks like a weird mix on paper, with fluid, jazzy bass lines slinking around jagged, No New York guitars while the drums kept it all together with playing that's at once incredibly tight and precise yet loose and flexible at the same time. Then you throw in vocals that call to mind a less verbose Chris Leo and try to figure out why it works as well as it does.

Making sense of why Bushu gets that sort of schizophrenic mixture of elements to work as well as it does is easier when you know that the core trio of All Scars are incredibly adept improvisors. I know that their later tours were 100% improvised, and while this sounds a bit more composed than that it certainly bears the mark of a group that possesses the level of synchronicity to make that possible. With that bit of information it makes a bit more sense. Of course they would be able to seamlessly transition from a Branca/DNA noise freakout into a bass-driven spy theme as they do in "Where Are the Humans?" Of course they'd get those little asides, like the guitar and drum tangent that pops up for one bar in the middle of "The Lineage of Time", to work perfectly. Of course they'd be able to juggle the disparate elements at the sound's core with what seems like complete ease, that's what improvisation instills in them: the ability to make things work instinctively. And it's glorious when they do. [8.2/10]

Download link and image courtesy of Mostly Blue Skies Above Us

Fridge: Kinoshita Terasaka (Go! Beat)
Evolution. It's the kind of thing that separates the great bands from the good ones, the ability of their sound to change and progress while retaining the same aura that their earliest material did. It's especially nice to see it happen like it did to Fridge, better known as that band Kieran Hebden was part of before he became Four Tet, who started out as a barely remarkable post-rock outfit in 1997 and a mere year later were doing, well, this.

What it sounds like to me is that Hebden, bassist Adem Ilhan and drummer Sam Jeffers took a vague blueprint for a song in two separate yet equally rewarding directions. On the first pass they played it faster, based it around a drum pattern that calls to mind Aphex Twin or Squarepusher and made it a danceable 5 minute piece, albeit one where the dancing involved a lot of odd angles. On the second pass they slowed it down while still keeping it upbeat, let Jeffers' live drumming meld with the programmed beat and give the song immense rhythmic depth, threw in some meandering trumpet and created a ten minute jazz piece. Yet at the end of the day the two pieces share the same DNA. I can imagine the main keyboard pattern from "Terasaka" being overlaid onto "Kinoshita" without changing it much just as I can hear the echoes of "Kinoshita"'s simple guitar pattern in "Terasaka." I firmly believe that they two tracks were once a single song that Fridge then split into two sets of elements and embellished them in keeping with the distinct moods each piece wound up working towards. It also gives the whole EP a greater sense of unity in a way that I've never heard before, where it feels like you're listening to a single song from two different angles without it feeling redundant or like a simple remix project. I don't know that my interpretation here is correct, but it certainly feels like it is on a gut level, so I'm going with it. [9.2/10]

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