Sunday, April 4, 2010

Dinosaurs of Rock

Stegosaur, Tentacles
Trailer Space Records, 4/3

If there's a better place than Trailer Space to drink malt liquor out of a paper bag while listening to music for free and wishing your turntable wasn't broken so you could buy more old jazz records, I don't know of it.

The most striking thing about Stegosaur is how great they sound; with a rudimentary PA in a rough concrete room they still absolutely pop. Drums, bass, lead guitar, and vocals are all just in the right place and from the slight fuzz on the bass to the guitarist's clever use of volume pedal the sound of the instruments is chosen just right. They take simple changes and two-note lead figures far further than most bands can because of the way their playing all works together. Their singer may play the guitar like an advanced tambourine but it doesn't really matter because they're self-aware enough to keep the volume level lower than the bass. What's more, they've all mastered the subtle art of laying out, rare enough in all genres but practically unheard of for hardcore.

Their confidence in stripping things down to just a drum lick or a bass rumble is indicative of their precocious sense that they can even improve upon the music that inspires them, and a style that views the fractured nature of postmodern postpunk as an opportunity rather than a crisis. They happily go to the extreme ends of the spectrum, with a vocal style indebted to At the Drive-In and an uncluttered, giddy bounce that recalls Superchunk or the Promise Ring. Their use of a Rhodes organ on one song ("Bloooooood") reminds me of my Denver homies Born in the Flood and is a good example of their ability to change rhythms, change the roles of the instruments in the mix (the bassist has some range), and remain identifiable as themselves from their singer's strong personality. They are heading out on tour soon, which is good because they aren't quite as tight as they should be given how simple the music is.

Their drummer Rudy gets his own paragraph -- he made me dance. Stegosaur's online recordings don't do his talent justice. He's got one of the best pockets of any drummer playing any style I've yet seen in Austin and his judiciously timed, jazzy fills are so right for the straight-ahead drive of the guitarists. I admire musicians who can make the drums sound like three people playing at once, but the players who really get me excited are the ones who can play the same basic patterns as everybody else but make them sound amazing and new with their superior feel. Lightly swinging and just a little tiny bit behind where ProTools would put the beats, the strength of the drums really pushes the band to another level. It's little wonder their arrangements are so original and wide-ranging -- why wouldn't you want to let the drummer play almost by himself often when he sounds this good?

On the same bill as Stegosaur, San Antonio's Tentacles illustrate how far the "post-hardcore" banner can stretch, bringing a metallic brutality that should and will cause heads to bang. Fronted as they are by a howler and eschewing melody for the most part, they're about as heavy and technical as the style gets. It's harder to tell than it used to be since Isis/Neurosis/Pelican/Mastodon made it cool for indie kids to listen to metal-influenced music again, but I would qualify Tentacles as more post-'core than metal since they don't use chromatic scales and the pounding, jabbing rhythms of their for-serious drummer and two downtuned guitar players are as a rule explorations of 4/4. Their quiet tension-building parts, which they should be encouraged to indulge in further, sound like Slint or Mogwai. Whatever they are, they're very good. The attack of the instruments is together like a firing squad and the singer has rad stage presence and employs his doom croak in a musical manner. Their guitar players should turn around and feel at ease facing the crowd, because they're doing cool stuff and they move around, too.

An observation not a criticism: At one point when Anna C. stepped outside for a moment there were 19 guys watching Tentacles... and no girls. I love listening to heavy rock, but there's good reason I've never much pursued playing it as a musician myself.

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