Terrible metaphor time: you can’t replace three fifths of someone’s body and expect them to be the same. Even if you leave alone most of the brain, the voice and one of the arms, imagine waking up with legs and other parts that, while a good fit, you didn’t spend your youth maturing with. Now imagine also continuing to make consistently fantastic records. Yeah …
Tonight I’ll see the newest incarnation of Rolo Tomassi, the band that (for me) blew a reformed Don Caballero out of the water back in 2008 with their equally spastic as soothing electro-punk-jazz-metal-etc. mix, aligning them with other masters of the genre flip Genghis Tron and The Number 12 Looks Like You. They have reported being pleased that they weren’t just seen as a gimmick (as was perhaps the fate of Iwrestledabearonce), and it would be wrong to consider them so: since the self-titled EP they have incorporated increasing amounts of subtlety, refining their sound with influences of dream-pop and shoegaze, and making wise decisions such as the centring of Eva Spence’s clean voice. Yet, parts of Astraea felt like they were losing something.
Grievances is their full redefinition: the intensity of sudden acid jazz switches is now the intensity of a devastatingly harsh, crushing and foreboding atmosphere, aided greatly by ex-Throats Tom Pitts’ drumming dexterity. He switches from the smooth jazz of ‘Opalescent’ (a la Mouse on the Keys with James’ piano) to blast-beats in ‘Funereal’. It’s not that he’s the drummer they always needed, but that the set of musicians feels complete again.
The madness is still very much there – opener ‘Estranged’ is full of Dillinger-esque riffs, and the stabs of ‘Stage Knives’ made me jump the first time I heard them – but it’s tempered with long, rich build-ups that showcase some excellent piano and vocal melodies. A great example is ‘Opalescent’. ‘Prelude III (Phantoms)’ acts as an intro in which Eva and James call and respond in a manner that recalls Hysterics’ ‘Oh Hello Ghost’. As a song by itself it’s lovely, but as an introduction it lets ‘Opalescent’ shine, in particular the restraint of the outro akin to Agent Fresco’s ‘Tempo’.
The album is a coherent whole that properly explores a side of Rolo Tomassi that has always been hinted at. The question is now, where can they go from here?
Instrumental, post-rock, math rock, progressive, pop
Sounds A Tad Like
The Dillinger Escape Plan, The Number 12 Looks Like You, Beecher
Sheffield, God’s Own Country, UK