Review ‘em All: Torch Runner, Endless Nothing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

31/12/14

I knew nothing of Torch Runner before I bought Endless Nothing yesterday, and that was because of a quick mention on a blog, in fact so quick I can’t remember where exactly. Apart from that brief mention, what sold it to me was it being out on Southern Lord, whose roster I feel a particular affinity for, and the band name, which sounds like tough music for tough times. So I bought it on a chance, a Glen, a Sol Campbell, because that’s £8.99 I won’t see again (unless I return it).

Having listened to the 22 minute and 10 second album a couple of times now, I have a similar opinion to Torch Runner as I do to a lot of grind and grind–heavy bands like Trap Them. They’ve taken elements of grind and mixed up the pace, and if you’re into that, I imagine it’ll do you nicely. But I’m not really one of those guys, generally preferring more eclectic bands like Genghis Tron and Liberteer, and I find little to distinguish between Endless Nothing’s 13 tracks.

I imagine this’ll be a good album to soundtrack the apoplectic smashing up of personal items after one bad day too many, and maybe exercise to, although it’s not the most rhythmic album going, and with little variation in vocals. For me they are a band with an atmosphere rather than specifics, and unfortunately that is not my cuppa splosh. I can only recall the very first riff and the bass intro of Calloused Mind, and would struggle to hum any other part of it back (although humming back grindcore is tricky at the best of times).

14/1/15

I’ve listened to it a few more times now. It’s grown on me, but I still can’t distinguish most of the tracks from one another. The aptly titled first track Attrition opens with a strong riff, but by the time there’s another distinctive feature, it’s 1 minute 50 seconds into track number six Rebirth. This is an album for when you’re angry enough to want to listen to something this acidic, but forgiving enough to embrace the lack of hooks and nuance. Still don’t know if I’m going to return it.

27/1/15

I’ve kept it, and am still putting it on, so it must be doing something right. That said, I still feel it to be a fairly one–dimensional listen. Maybe for when Nails are too catchy, or when I need to strip some paint. Tough music for tough times exclusively.

Advertisements

The Winter of Our Content XI: Washed Clean

Photo credited to Steven Bolding

‘thoughts arrive like butterflies …someday yet, he’ll begin his life again’.

When I first saw the album artwork for Pearl Jam’s Ten, I saw the top of a desperate scramble for survival, hands grasping each other desperately in a frenzy to ensure their own preservation, blind to all else. Folding the sleeve notes out, they formed a small poster. The grasping hands turned into the five members of Pearl Jam standing in a circle, each with one foot meeting in the centre and a hand held aloft, hands united in front of a giant backdrop reading PEARL JAM.

This is the first time I noticed and was drawn to that the constant contrast between hopelessness, burn–out, rebirth, uplift and euphoria that runs through Ten. It places me in mind of empty skate parks, and this is where I’m listening to it, on top of the local bowl, with the winter night turning my notebook pages and the low–flying planes always somewhere in sight. This is a dark, and at times, cold album, with self–exposing, solemn lyrics about depression, homelessness, abuse, loneliness, suicide, murder and long–held hurt. Brooding individuals pace through it, narrating the songs from their nadirs, recounting broken families, haunted pasts and presents, but also epiphanies, speaking of hope and catharsis. Major riffs butt up against despondent lyrics, and songs like the minor key Once lead into the rocking Even Flow, and the major key Alive leads into the shout–along, punk Why Go.

As this suggests, one of the striking features of Ten is how it turns destructive emotions into positivity, even beyond the concept that any act of creation is an act of hope. Even Flow manages to find hope in homelessness (‘feelin’ maybe he’ll see a little better, set of days/Someday yet, he’ll begin his life again’) and Garden, which alludes to both materialism and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, finishes on a note of defiance (‘I don’t show/I don’t share/I don’t need, what you have to give’). The lyrics to Alive, in which the narrator finds out that his father was not actually his father, and that this man had already died, were written by Vedder in a semi–biographical vein, considering it to be a curse to be alive after learning this information. But when huge crowds began to sing it back to him, the euphoria of these performances, with people celebrating the relatively simple act of just being alive, became the song’s newer, redemptive and uplifting meaning[1]. Another example of this dichotomy is Jeremy, the lyrics of which Eddie Vedder wrote after reading a newspaper story about a school shooting, and from it created part of a glorious, top–of–the–mountain anthem. Final track Release wipes the slate clean with the wonderfully understated lines ‘I’ll ride the wave/to where it takes me’. It’s obviously about Vedder coming to terms with never knowing his father for who he was, but on a wider scale it is about love.

Ten is a cathartic album, and after listening to it I feel born again, like I’m coming back up a new person. Skating around by myself in the dark, the line ‘I will wait up in the dark/For you to speak to me’ resonated deeply, and the line from Even Flow, ‘thoughts arrive like butterflies’, resounded; this album is just that, a time for contemplation. It is not a transcendent listen, like some of the others albums I’ve written about, with its societal concerns and gritty details. But it does hold hope for the future.

I am cold but invigorated.

 

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8pgj9aIVQw&t=18m10s.

The Winter Of Our Content X: Life’s Swansong

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
In the middle of a woodland there is a lake with a hollow oblong of grass separating the trees and the water. On the part of this clearing furthest from the lake entrance are the remains of a bonfire, which had stood at 20 foot before it was even lit. It had gone up a good two hours beforehand, and it remains waist–high, throwing out enough heat to make the clear and cold night durable from six feet away. I put down the chair I had carried along the track, circled the fire once, watching it from all angles, then sat, cracking open the first of several beers and putting my headphones on.

Aware of Swan’s reputation but unaware of their music, I bought My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky with an open mind as to what it would sound like, let alone how well it would fit into the scope of being a winter album. Going on reputation alone, I anticipated 70 minutes of vortexing feedback. But instead I found it to be a subtle and diverse listen, with intensity used as part of rather than instead of songwriting. With a shared dichotomy of destructive ability and beauty, Swans have the same hypnotic effect as an open fire. This first occurred to me during opening track, and continued as the intro of overlapping bells gives way to a listen that is characterised by intensity but not heaviness, its cyclical and climatic riffs and lyrics a suitable companion to staring into shifting flames and mountains of crumbling embers. Experimental to the point of being genre–free (‘no-wave’ apparently), this is an album full of juxtapositions, the mellow acoustic temper of second track Reeling The Liars In at odds with ‘We are burning them in a pile. The only true thing, the place to begin, is to burn up the liar pile’. With hummed background vocals, it even began to sound a bit like a campfire song, raising a morbid chuckle on my part.

This album possesses a brooding menace, lurking in the shadows, the volume slowly building. As the overdriven guitar comes in on top of the dulcimer and background vocals in Jim, and as the big bass groove re–enters after the brief silence at the end of No Words/No Thoughts, and as the lullaby feel of You Fucking People Make Me Sick descends into atonal piano rumbles and klaxon war horns, I expect to see the machete–wielder step out of the shadows just before slicing me to the thrapple (always wanted to use that word). But each time the danger fades away, to lurk anew in the dark. Despite these sinister qualities, however, this is not an album characteristic of winter.

Several tracks groove hard, particularly No Words/No Thoughts, JimInside Madeline and Eden Prison, and those that don’t tend to sound quite warm, such as the echoing guitars of Little Mouth. The lyrics centre on escape through destruction and cycles of life spiralling downwards towards extinction; this sounds like an apt soundtrack for a season of death, survival and indifference, but the lyrics also include revenge, self–hatred and misanthropy (You Fucking People Make Me Sick) and entrapment, sexual desire and escape (Madeline, My Birth, Little Mouth); these are themes of the self, rather than of something like widened philosophical awareness or escapism through acceptance of insignificance. This is not an album that stalks through winter, but instead through the dark.

After the album fell into silence, I sat there for a bit, contemplating the mumbling embers, the stars, and whatever it was stuck between my teeth. When I got up and began to walk away, I really began to realise how cold it was and how protected I had been by the fire. My father hadn’t guided me up a rope to the sky, but had absorbed me in flames and music.