In the kitchen, Track 1 – ‘The One’. ‘Ironic?’ he thinks as he puts on the kettle. Musically, it’s as though Frank Zappa and Lemmy are BFFs. The kettle begins to groan like a bad stomach. He gazes meaninglessly through the window into the garden. A shockingly bright, rouged robin appears in the baleful pale blue square (that is the window). London’s Axes are powering their way through punchy, rolling melodic riffs and ostinati, like they’re happily destroying space invaders. The robin inhales visibly and produces a stream of complimenting frequencies – his song like tiny bubbles of champagne, chopping and changing, suddenly pausing to stare quizzically at god only knows. He looks like a clump of red pixels on a Paint canvas.
Ok, ok, so it’s a computer game, the man thinks. You’re playing the game, and, and, Zappa is the first boss, erm – it’s a Las Vegas level, with bright lights and world monuments lovingly constructed from crotchets and quavers, like, he’s like shooting wigs at you with his guitar whilst leaning at the bar, yeah yeah, except its bright and colourful like Mario. He’s trying to make a drink, a pink cocktail for his whiskery lips, and you have to stop him – smashing the gin with kung-fu.. He says ‘Turn me up so they can hear what I’m saying’ as though completely devoid of sarcasm. Lemmy is the next boss – after a dinosaur level – he smiles, slow and genial like a lizard, and sonic booms you with bass.
Hmm, nice, but – no. Zappa is never not ironic. The kettle sounds like an imminent disaster for a second or two before the button flicks off. Axes are post-rock in that they repeat, he thinks, pausing with a box of teabags in his hand, but math-rock in that those repeats are escalatingly reworked, each one. And the reworks are often rhythmic. This drummer’s pretty intense, he muses. He purses his lips through the steam as the hot water pours. The robin disappears, leaving only a swaying holly branch.
Track 2 – ‘Glory’: its not that the guitars aren’t intense, he thinks. I guess complexity buggers passion. ‘Are they having too much fun….?’ he murmurs. He looks around the kitchen guilty. Is such a thing possible? He blows on his tea. Perhaps some people are just without cynicism, he thinks. He takes a sip and, burning his mouth mildly, realises that there are two teabags mashed together damply on the side, instead of one, and that the tea he is drinking is oddly at once spicy and smoky. He glances at the shelf and sees, side by side, boxes of lapsang and chai tea. Hmmm, he thinks. He blows again, and sips. Not bad. Kind of reminds me of West African duelling guitar stuff, he suddenly realises. I suppose its got everything – two guitars, cross melodies, and of course, cross rhythms. Plus its up-beat. He looks up, notices something, reaches to the shelf above the kitchen table and pulls down Mande Music by Eric Chary, idly flicking through. He reads aloud: “the apparent lack of a definitive starting point in a cycle… a play of 2 or 4 equally spaced beats in the same durational space as 3 equally spaced beats or vice versa… producing an ambiguity of beat…” He closes the book with a snap. Hmmm not quite. Harmony, he thinks, is what is missing from this analysis. No rhythm alone could ever explain that infectious vigour. No rhythm alone….
Track 3 – ‘Monster’: He’s in the front room. standing in the middle of it, on the rug, vaguely. He blows on his tea. Ok, so, it’s an air traffic controller. A rogue terrorist air traffic controller. Armed police are surrounding the building, squealing and baying on the tarmac, as his gang, in masks, reload shotguns and fire through smashed out windows to keep the police at bay. The terrorist air traffic controller seems calm in the midst of the battle, his thick baritone dictating co-ordinates to stupefied, terrified pilots. He is a giant – his hulk obscures the wall of screens as his glance takes them all in. He adjusts the mic, oblivious to the explosions around him. Planes from Hawaii – Siberia – Morocco – Reykjavik – he speaks all their languages, gently coaxing these laden, pregnant birds through the sky, working them like a choir. Planes of all shapes and sizes, barreling narrowly by one another, like a man and his dogs. Outside, the Sergeant screams to his Constables – We’ve got to stop him landing these planes! They’re all terrorists! The government will collapse! We have to get in there! Inside the air traffic controller is approached by a meek minion. How much longer, compadré ? – A few minutes, the giant speaks. He suddenly laughs, throwing his head back as though barking, and half turns to his smiling friend. Engines fill the air. A few minutes, and I will have landed these birds, he says. His voice cuts through the turbulence. And the food, water and medicine that this suffering country, under the heel of the brutal regime, has been denied for generations, will be ours. Hmmmmm, no.
Track 4 – ‘Real Talk’: The guitar stutters melodiously. Increased use of freeze pedal? He muses. Excellent production, lets face it. Rounded. He’s slouching on the sofa in the front room. He sits upright suddenly, and twitches is head, thinks he heard some other than pedal effect – a Pro-tools edit…? The cat prowls silently at the other end of the room, in the shadows, winding around chair legs like a mist. They often push and pull the tempo, he thinks. Instead of just sticking to the pulse, the beat, the 16s, and doing interesting combinations of numbers – off and on beat stabs, odd numbered groupings, that sort of thing. I mean, that stuff is cool, but really, it’s still only the pulse. A lot of bands do it but that’s ‘easy’ maths. The cat freezes nonchalantly. Actually altering the pulse, now that’s complex. Cantors Theorem, he says out loud. He sips his tea.
The cat, now sitting perfectly motionless, except for a flicking tail tip, tilts his head, staring intently at the light from the window playing upon the strings of an acoustic guitar. Ok, so some of it is beach music… But also there’s some ‘true rock’ – true rock? he questions. Explain yourself. Gritty, he thinks. Dirty. Metalled. Harder. Still groovy as feck, mind. Some of it, but not that much. Or at least, it’s buried… which is fitting really, for a heavy metal… He chuckles. He blow unnecessarily on his tea. I prefer those sorts of bits. He raises his eyebrows speculatively. Maybe that’s a failing of mine, he thinks. Attraction to the darker and, lets face it, more posturing end of the scale. Cuh! He expels air from his mouth with a parting of lips. Posturing. Somehow, these guys can be hard and mean sounding without the posing, he thinks. Punk beats, blast beats….! He smiles, his tea halfway to his lips. He like blast beats.
But the blast beat in question is in immediate opposition to an almost-salsa, a pretend bossa-nova, which could – if you were that sort of a person – be seen to undermine the ‘rock truth’ of the blast beat immediately preceding it. The cat leaps, bodily meeting with the guitar, which slips to it’s side, catching the cat’s claw between a string. The cat, pulling that panicked bat-like face they do, sort of falls with it, like a leaf on a falling tree, reflexively tugging it’s paw. The guitar performs a flamenco style staggered chord, followed by what sounds suspiciously like a melodic double tap solo. Its over in less than a second. The guitar is still and so is the cat – looking the other way – like nothing ever happened.
Track 5 – ‘Junior’: It’s a grower, though, this one. He nods his head and spills a bit of tea onto his crotch. A grower, he repeats. This album. On the second listen, he finds himself looking forward to the various parts about to appear in each meticulously constructed song. Nice. He sips his tea. A grower, he thinks. Ok so, its, its… its a giant vine-like plant, thick enough for a man to climb. Its roots deeply coil into the earth, creating warm, dark caves and strange shadowy homes for hulking beasts, scary but well natured, eager to please. Its trunk splits into myriad sturdy branches, weaving shelter for swinging hairy beasts with fingers and laughter, eating from the giant many coloured fruit. At it’s highest height clouds curl through the branch tips like gossamer and impossibly huge leaves, like curved open hands, sway like glaciers. Crested birds bathe in the ice cold dew gathered in each leafy cup… and approaching this tree, one man… one man, so small in stature against this great ecology… one man who will, although so small, ultimately, destroy it forever. He rests at a hilltop before a plain, the tree visible though so many miles away, like a crack in the earth and sky. Sword tip in the ground, handle rested in both hands, he gazes with resigned intensity across the plain.
Track 7 – ‘Chun Fai Pang’: What was he in again…? Ah, The Crime File, a 90’s TV series, otherwise known as Kon Tam Kwan Ying. I like their artwork, their covers, he thinks, thinking back to the computerised shatter of their eponymous album artwork. Varied. He’s still in the front room but has wondered over to the window that looks out onto the street. The day is gray, the only colour comes from Axes as they paint the air with joyous invention. Varied artwork, he muses. He sips his tea. And so is the music, lets face it. Its the main defining factor, really – The huge range of genres this band cover. Rain spatters flaccidly against the window. It’s practically the comprehensive rock gamut. He raises his eyebrows. Not to mention several others. I think the emotional bits, the rising, anthemic bits, are a bit too much for me. But then – it’s a grower, its definitely a grower. I’ll be looking forward to them on the next listen. He experiments with sticking out his belly, looking at his reflection. A UPS van goes by. He is suddenly struck by something – are they doing our research for us?!
Are they ‘doing’, are they ‘using’, all styles of music that have anything to do with math rock -? He is stunned. In his mind’s eye, a cartoon calendar’s days are blown off one by one, increasingly violently, except it’s not dates, its genres. West and North African! He thinks. Electronica! Obviously, a thousand sub-genres of rock! Indie! Proper Old Folk! Erm – what else… other types of -! Erm, well no, maybe not. He tails off, only because the other styles he can hear in this album don’t really relate to math rock, as it were. There’s punk; emo; dry ice, coming-up trance-chord-progressions; hip hop; 70s through 90s rock. Seriously.
He sips on his tea and makes a face – cold. Well, time for a fag then. A large black van with black tinted windows drive down the street and comes to a rest outside the house. He stares at it through the window, motionless. The engine stays on, grumbling throatily. He strains his ears. Black Sabbath? He thinks… the strains of Electric Funeral boom muffled from the vehicle, intimidating the neighborhood. Other drivers don’t beep at this double-parked monster as they carefully drive past. The door cracks open, and a small kid in a yellow mac hops out. He waves at the tinted front window, his mitten flying about on their string. The window rolls down and a beaming young man smiles down. Goodbye, darling, he says. Don’ forget to finish your maths homework – remember what we talked about? The boy looks down at his feet and raises his eyes with an embarrassed grin. I know dad, he says – I can do it if I try. He stands on tiptoes and they kiss on the cheek. The boy turns and runs off – the car pulls away.
Track 9 – ‘Plain American’: The robin bursts from the bush with a shriek, the cat bounding after it, a shadow chasing a sunburst. He closes the door, back in the kitchen. Its a grower, for sure, he thinks. He tries to sum the album up:
Beautiful melodies, perhaps too meaningfully flippant at first, become sweetly memorable. There is often very little development between parts – but the cut-and-shut style keeps you awake. Probably, gradual developments from one part to the other would seem too gentle, too saccharine. The words ‘computer game’ certainly applies but not in a negative sense – we all enjoy at least the odd computer game, right? Be it Search for Cetus or Mario Tennis. And some games have real depth. Its technically very accomplished, he thinks. A range of influences is what really stands out. They’ve really gone for it with this, in contrast with previous releases, where the varied content is more of an aside, an accident. They’re always lopsided. Their subtle sounds camouflage a dexterity of guitar pedal-use and studio production. Beautiful deeply modern West African genres sit beside Botch-like beatdowns and cute end-of-level melodies. It almost seems pointless, structurally, for the album to have tracks; songs. I’d like to see a Zappa-esque solid 45 minutes, a concerto, no breaks, with an overarching structure – just the odd reprise of an opening riff would do it – barely keeping it together. They have the talent. They could pull off some real ground breaking, genre pushing stuff.
I keep thinking of Zappa – but where Zappa uses lyrics and parody to ‘keep it real’ (i.e., cynical), Axes don’t have that bottom line. Which could put you off first listen. But listen to it twice, and you’ll listen again, listening out for the bits you like – looking forward to the bits you like. Anticipating with glee.
He’s back in the front room, his tiny laptop balanced precariously on a pile of books on the tiny coffee table. On the sofa, his knees up past his elbows, he hunches over the computer, fingers hovering motionless over the keys, moths in a still frame. I need a story.
He glances at his notes in a brown paper pad beside him. He reads, ‘Computer game – a busy bus, stopping in all boroughs, as seemingly unrelated people get on one by one, it is revealed that they have a combined purpose, to confront the bus driver about something dark – mixing two types of tea but it turns out quite nice – postman delivers something wrong but eye opening – terrorist air traffic controller with a twist – robin in garden, song! (underlined) – dramatisation of a homely scientist proving complex maths conundrum – cat accidentally plays blues on guitar’… he glances away. The end of a film, he thinks. The cathartic and endless ending of many films.
Or, maybe, just the confused and wandering thoughts of a man trying to review an album. He stares at the blank white space of notepad.
Silence; album over. Play again? Its the end of a movie – a teenage, 90s movie…
A rock gig is rockily under way in a cavernous NY music venue. Young, bright people dance, smile and sing, all hair colours of the rainbow and denim jackets. The camera – our viewpoint – takes this in from on high before descending into the tumult of bodies. We focus in on two people in particular – the dancing crowd opens up, the rock band pumping away on stage fades into nothing as these two people’s eyes meet. The band is replaced by the theme of the movie, treated in a hugely cathartic style – strings and haltingly played acoustic guitar. They begin to approach each other, eyes like pilot lights – the music swells powerfully – but the camera zooms suddenly up again, the rock band are back, rocking in leather jackets – the camera dizzily spins and zooms down into another part of the crowd. A man pulls his arm away from the pleading grasp of another man. The crowd seethes and parts around them. The band stops – Just stay away from me! the man screams. The main theme of this film swells in, treated cathartically as we zoom in on the second man’s frail blue eyes, whipping up our emotions. But suddenly we are whipped up, up and away again – the band start playing, a liquid distorted rock groove, and we spin once more before swooping down into another part of the crowd, right down among the ankles, to a young boy holding his dad’s legs and looking up, eyes bulbous with sincerity. The band fade out so we can hear his whisper – “Daddy“, he says – “Son?” says the big man, as the main theme of the film returns, cathartically, as the camera slowly pans up, following the boys gaze, but barely pausing on the big face of his teary-eyed father before shooting up into the rafters, the rock band rocking out once more – and back down again, the band fading out, blonde skater kids at the edge of the dance floor. “Lets go down the beach like the old days“, one says. But the flat eyes of his friend stare back as he replies, “everything’s changed, can’t you see that?“… the first boy falters as the strings swell, but up we shoot into the rafters… and so on, and so on.
You don’t need to watch each film to understand the meaning of each end – and in fact, it’s rawer, more pleasing, to feel the feeling without knowing the details. Emotion rises and falls with each swoop of the camera, with each nameless history unfolding, and you find yourself looking forward to the next change of scene, like an addict. And yes, I will be playing it again.