While it may be easy to consider Gregory Pepper and His Problem as a master of brevity, he does have the capability to draw out lengthier numbers for something quite remarkable. Take into consideration for a moment his latest album No Friends, filled with clever songwriting, Beach Boys-esque harmonies, and unconventionality that stirs emotions. Pepper even surprises here with “Dadda,” where his own self-deprecation is offset by the humor of his lyricism, “I used to do cocaine but now I use Rogaine” and “I used to play shows but now I’m ironing clothes” as he moves from punk nihilist to punk enthusiast. Through the 10-tracks of No Friends, there’s nary a dull moment here with its musical landscapes and touching melodies & harmonies. Pepper outdoes himself with every release.
KNIFE – MAST YEAR
Post-hardcore has always been an interesting genre. How many artists have been misnomered in an attempt to categorize something as “post” anything? This is where Knife, that Baltimore quartet, comes in. The noise rockers could have easily been marked as a metal band but where’s the fun in that? The band just released its full-length debut, Mast Year (Grimoire Records), and is probably more than the sum of its parts.
The band hits with the precision of hummingbirds in flight hitting every chord and note where it might even seem disjointed and fragmented. But looks can be deceiving and Knife is a monster that controls its urges and at times succumbs and releases all of its anxiety. The group’s “Knife” is possibly one of the band’s more subdued tracks, where howled vocals make way for vocal melodies as guitar rhythms and dissected notes make way for feedback while bass and drums maniacally cut loose. It urges listeners on from the start until its abrupt end. While it may be noted as post-hardcore, the metal leanings are actually offset by post-punk leanings “In Tandem” seems to combine everything in just one song, with its off-kilter melodies, growling vocals, and dynamic shifts. Knife mixes it all well together, just enough to keep everyone guessing.
The group includes interludes that are sometimes noisy and occasionally filled with dread, but it’s never to the band’s detriment, allowing for experimentation within the mix. But there’s something that just sets Knife apart from the rest. Whether it’s the group’s non-conformist attitude to unnecessary genre labels or possibly the band’s inability to give a muskrat’s ass about labels, the group does things its own way. Mast Year is that album that’s inexplicably uncompromising and fits anywhere its placed.
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FACS – STILL LIFE IN DECAY
Steady as it goes. An artist with a steady hand and a steady mind can sometimes be quite intriguing. Chicago’s FACS – guitarist Brian Case, bassist Alianna Kalaba & drummer Noah Leger – have continued to pummel listeners into submission with hypnotic rhythms for the last seven years or so, while releasing an assortment of full-length releases. Of course, like many other artists, the last few years have seen lost time, and possibly lost opportunities but it doesn’t mean FACS has become another victim of laziness falling into mediocrity. That’s just not in the cards for the Windy City trio.
The band has plowed forward with its new full-length, Still Life In Decay (Trouble In Mind), the band’s fifth proper studio album. But “plow” might be a misnomer. The group has always been rhythm-heavy and with much of Still Life… it continues to be a prevalent factor, one difference though, it seems the band has cleaned things up a bit. Opening with the dissonance of “Constellation,” FACS confuses listeners before it engages and tears directly into the melody of the song, much like an angry bison delivering a slow furious attack. It plods through with purpose, as the rhythm section finds solace in the repetition through the darkness. Brian Case’s guitar notes delicately trickle down through the cascading rhythm until it all uniforms tightly together. This(!) is the way to start an album that decays beautifully. This leads directly into the bestial “When You Say,” with a haunting and infectious melody that’s unrelenting. As deep as the track submerges, lingering guitar notes are crisp and clear providing the right amount of oxygenated waters to breathe in. It’s glorious.
The stirring “Slogan” creeps around seamlessly, as sharp edges of atmospheric tones slice around corners with dreading voices directing it all. Timbre lines are drawn, distinctively maneuvering around Brian Case’s notes but that distorted bassline Alianna Kalaba controls is matched by Noah Leger’s drums that pull strength from the earth itself. At almost eight and a half minutes, “Still Life” is steady repetition that never becomes stagnant as its underlying hum never completely drains from its melodic well.
Throughout Still Life In Decay, there’s never a dull moment as every movement, every note, and every shift in dynamics has a purpose. FACS continues its exploration of sound, tapping into other dimensions of sonic bliss still untouched. FACS is and has been on that next-level shit everyone needs to take notice of. This is the album we all should have expected from FACS, as it seems to defy the laws of physics.