In lieu of a live review, here is another series of album reviews from Lawrence-affiliated bands. This week features six alumni (two solo acts and one band, with four of its five members being Lawrentians). Like the pairing two weeks ago, this trio of reviews covers a lot of musical ground.
The long-awaited debut recording from the heavy metal band of cello, trombone, saxophone, bass and drums is finally here in all its low, dense glory. Calvin Armstrong ’14 leads the quintet with his distinct compositions and cello playing, writing nearly everything, save for their cover of Warhorse’s “Black Acid Prophecy” (to which he lends his vocals). Aside from the cover, the release is instrumental, focusing on the intensity the five voices forge with each other and the elephantine compositions. The darkly jaunting cello intro in “Pyroclasm” sets the mood quickly, the other four voices wasting no time in joining. The trombone and saxophone make a robust mass that trudges with agility while the cello and bass drive the momentum, and drums—active as ever—tactfully provide not only a framework but deeply immersive rhythms.
The chaos and volume does take a rest, however, with the cover—but only for the first minute. After the surprisingly calm and clean intro, the song immediately builds back up the instrumentation and power into a full sound with all the musicians playing the same part. Later in the song, Armstrong’s vocals are also present and, as always, a treat to hear as they cut over everything despite being in a lower range and dripping with natural distortion. The song drones on, the longest of the five, and its burned-out slowness nicely juxtaposes the following “Absolution of the Carcass,” the shortest song and one of the more peppy.
There is nothing quite like Shed—their instrumentation piquing interest and their behemothic nature hopefully getting listeners to stay. Be sure to download the demos before it is too late; I hear that soon they may not be up anymore… shedchicago.bandcamp.com/releases
The description in Bandcamp is simple—“created over a long 4 years at Lawrence University”—but it is more than enough to introduce the album and even sum it up, in ways. “Solitaire” is a ten-minute album with some songs being nearly under a minute and the longest being 2:39; despite their short lengths, however, each song is impeccably complete within itself, and the album would most likely feel less cohesive if it were any longer. Each piece is crafted in such a way that you will most likely understand how the album took “4 long years” to make. But even with the meticulous attention and long marination period “Solitaire” was given, it retains a raw, emotional maturity and childlike playfulness.
When I got the album, I saw the length of each song and how many there were, but each listen makes me refuse to believe that it is only ten minutes. For Ridley (full name Ridley Tankersley ’17) to be able to capture such complex feelings of joy, melancholy, aloneness and more is impressive. And the fact he was able to do so concisely, without jam-packing each song and overwhelming the listener, proves his songwriting talent that he developed during his time at Lawrence.
Immerse yourself in moments of his four years with “Solitaire” and purchase it and Ridley’s other releases here: poormoi.bandcamp.com
Jason Koth’s “Deafen”
It is always a pleasure to review Koth’s (’17) projects. With each one, he effortlessly blends the acoustic and electronic, but is still able to create variation within the album and within his extensive and still-growing catalogue as a whole. “Deafen,” his first solo release under his full name, is not his debut, as he’s released a few solo recordings under the name The Midlands. But this, while rooted in ambient music like The Midlands, is even more ambient and a departure from his poppier, song-oriented pieces. In fact, it is probably his most minimal; Koth uses the forty minutes to make songs that are often extremely quiet, built on few pitches and sustained. While the album is a thought-provoking work, the last track alone immerses the listener in its world for nearly twenty minutes, allowing them to bask in the light of its sound. When one listens attentively, the piece can allow for deep rumination on itself and on one’s surroundings. When one listens passively, it passes ambient pioneer Brian Eno’s “test”—it is “as ignorable as it is interesting.”
Other parts of the album are a bit less subdued; fluttering saxophone peeking out over a layered wash in the second half of “Meet As Friends” comes to mind. But there is always a brewing energy throughout, no matter if it is subdued or not. It carries from moment to moment, enveloping the album in a beautiful stillness that is distinctly Koth.
For a large variety of ambient and related music, visit the This Is Not Social Media label here: thisisnotsocialmedia.bandcamp.com. There, you can purchase “Deafen,” along with several other albums.