Friday, May 29, 2009

Egoist - Ultra-Selfish Revolution (Selfmadegod, 2009)

What were you doing when you were 22? I had just graduated U. Penn, professionally aimless and without a girlfriend, working part-time at an avant-garde jazz label and spending long hours in coffee shops to avoid the sad regression of living with my parents post-college. Polish whiz kid Stanislaw "Stan" Wolonciej was competing against Sean Reinert (Cynic) for the drum throne in ex-Pestilence guitarist Patrick Mameli's C-187 project, and writing, playing and recording every single instrument on a super-professional metal album. Stan wins. 

Normally, the work of a metal musician this young warrants condescension if it's good (e.g. "Warbringer bring nothing new to the table, but they'll get over Vio-Lence when they're older"), or excuses if it's terrible ("Those Black Tide kids suck, but who didn't suck when they were teenagers?"). Ultra-Selfish Revolution requires neither. For every malfunctioning robot rhythm or bizarro vocal delivery that suggests Stan is still internalizing Thordendal and Patton, there's another passage of sheer invention. Electronic frippery flits around a surprisingly rich baritone voice. Placid dream pop soundscapes float in suspension (check "Near Warm Fireplace"), then get raped by giant pitch-bending Meshu-grooves out of nowhere ("(Not) The End," with a guitar solo by Mameli). There's a freaky slap-bass solo on "Bright Shift." Stan covers a lot of ground here, and if his combinations of stacked vocal harmonies and ominous riffing make for strange bedfellows, they also stick to a consistent vibe. 

Ultra-Selfish Revolution thrives on its heady vibe, often at the expense of memorable songs. Melodies drift in and out without sticking. The album's polished heaviness is steely and frictionless. We get woozy, not punched in the gut. It feels ultra-smooth, almost repellent in its perfection. Maybe that's what Stan was going for with the suit and tie on the cover. Stan's here to do his business and leave. He doesn't care if you follow or not. He's in this alone. It's so hard to find good help these days. 


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

CHAINMAIL: Hurt Model - This Is You (self-released, 2008)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to contact me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

I hung out with Hurt Model drummer Bennett Erickson at the L.A. Murderfest a few weeks ago, and he was wearing an old Demilich t-shirt.  The first time I ever had a proper conversation with the guy, we geeked out over our mutual affection for the Dismemberment Plan. Once I saw Hurt Model play a tiny little Moroccan-themed bar, and each band member was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt in a different solid color. 

These facts are significant, because they suggest the same breadth of listening and quirkiness that I hear in Hurt Model's debut EP, This Is You. Their heavy instru-metal reminds me of my younger self's favorite bands. There's the cycling dissonance of Trout Mask Replica-era Captain Beefheart and the knotty jams (and snarky song titles) of early Don Caballero; Dysrhythmia's tricky counterpoint, and the throttled guitar sound that Steve Albini brought to so many classic records in the early 90s.

The short, busy instrumental tunes on This Is You rumble like barbed wire tumbleweeds. They never quite build steam, but suck us into their mis-shapen grooves all the same. Occasionally the crumbling rhythms ease up to allow an open cello passage ("Take Home A Glowing Piece Of Awesome Rock"), or main songwriter Trevor Vento's guitars will sprout a beautiful melodic line ("Sitting Next to Susan"), though mostly it's a succession of deliciously gnarly un-riffs. I'm actually a big fan of Erickson's stubbly production job here, which helps coax out a 3D personality from the album -- no small feat, considering how many tech-wanker albums sound sonically castrated. This Is You sounds like it was made by real people. And I can confirm that Hurt Model are real people, 'cuz they've bought me beers before. Thanks guys!

Don't forget to close your tab at Hurt Model's MySpace page