No. 3: Wig, flipped
By Bryan Reed
It’s interesting how a small
deviation from what we expect can make such a huge impact in the way we respond
to something. It’s what makes difficult music difficult in the first place, and
why it takes an adventurous listener to even approach experimental music.
My expectations were rattled
recently when the self-titled debut from Philadelphia’s
Seabrook Power Plant (pictured
above) arrived in my mailbox. I was previously unaware of the band, led by jazz
guitarist/banjoist Brandon Seabrook, but they share a publicist with Asheville, N.C.
skronk-rock trio Ahleuchatistas,
and I guess he thought (correctly) if I liked one, I’d like the other. The
album explodes from the start with (in homage to The Who guitarist), in which any
expectations about how Brandon Seabrook might be wielding his banjo are upended
as soon as the instruments percussive flair begins to resemble a Dave Lombardo
The way the trio uses the
banjo’s percussive attack in its math-metal fueled cuts (the album was recorded
by Colin Marston of Dysrhythmia and Krallice, so it’s got its loud rock bona
fides) is at once novel and effective. On the transcendent “Ho Chi Minh Trial,”
Seabrook’s banjo is an instrument of surprising melodic acuity, evoking Eastern
melodic structures, even as its frantic percussiveness drives the song like
there’s a machine gun shooting at its feet.
Brandon’s brother, Jared
Seabrook, drums with finesse and power (notably on the chiming doom of
“Doomsday Shroud,” where his plodding punctuations split the haze of electric
guitar and bass, pushing the song forward behind Brandon Seabrook’s hypnotic,
Bassist Tom Blancart drives the
melody, answering Brandon Seabrook on the jazzabilly “Base Load Plant Theme,”
alternately echoing Brandon Seabrook’s riffs, or pulsing ahead of Jared
That there could exist a trio
of musicians playing a mix of frantic punk, tech-metal and jazz-skronk is
hardly surprising, though. And after listening a few times, the banjo’s timbre
is less novel, though no less effective. What really defies expectations is the
consistency with which the three players’ talents are congealed here.
That’s also what made listening
to Eight Bells, the latest from
longstanding heavy-psych outfit SubArachnoid Space exciting
for me. This album was my introduction to the band, through cursory research
reveals an almost 15-year career with releases on labels including Relapse,
and, for Eight Bells, Crucial Blast.
Led by guitarist Melynda
Jackson, SubArachnoid Space has, apparently, been a shape-shifting creature,
constantly rotating its roster. But on this record, the shapes that shift are
mostly textural, as the band’s spacey tracks move fluidly through different
melodic passages and layered drones.
But what surpasses
expectations, isn’t that the band touches on psychedelic rock, drone, noise and
post-hardcore, but that it envelops it influences and coalesces as something
new and exciting. Perhaps it’s the ever-shifting line-up that contributes to
the fresh, extemporaneous feeling I hear in Eight
Bells, or perhaps it’s a well-honed professionalism masquerading as
startled discovery. It doesn’t matter. The record’s front-to-back good, and
that will always be a welcome, but unexpected attribute.
Also in rotation: Ahleuchatistas – Of The Body Prone (Tzadik); Lightning Bolt – Earthly Pleasures (Load); Psyched To Die – Year One (Dirtnap); Horseback – MILH
IHVH (Turgid Animal); Baroness – Blue
Record (Relapse); Converge – Axe To
Fall (Epitaph); Pelican – What We All
Come To Need (Southern Lord); White Mice – Ganjahovahdose (20 Buck Spin); Skeletonwitch – Breathe The Fire (Prosthetic)
Bryan Reed is from
North Carolina and, despite his best efforts, he still hasn’t grown out of the
racket that irritated his friends and family in high school, and continues to
irritate them in the present. Stalker-types should know that they can follow Bryan on Twitter @subparrockstar.
[Photo of Seabrook Power Plant by