ADEBISI SHANK: THIS IS THE ALBUM OF A BAND CALLED ADEBISI SHANK (2008)
1) You Me; 2) Dodr; 3) Colin Skehan; 4) Shunk; 5) Mini Rockers; 6) Agassi Shank; 7) I Answer To Doc; 8) Snakehips.
There is one thing that bugs me about the debut album of this band called Adebisi Shank, titled This Is The Album Of A Band Called Adebisi Shank, as well as the slightly earlier 4-song EP by the same band, called This Is The EP Of A Band Called Adebisi Shank (it makes sense to treat the two within the same review, considering that both are executed in the same style, and that the «Album» runs only slightly over 20 minutes anyway). The thing that bugs me is that the individual titles, breaking the established idiom, are not listed as ʽThis Is The First Composition On The Album Of A Band Called Adebisi Shankʼ, ʽThis Is The Second Composition....ʼ and so on. Instead, they inexplicably adopt the old pretentious jazz tradition of assigning random combinations of words and non-words to their instrumentals. This does not seem consistent. Then again, the very name of the band is essentially a meaningless word combination («Adebisi» is the name of a character from the Oz TV show, chosen rather randomly), so the inconsistency goes even farther than that...
Nevertheless, this is as far as I can go about seriously criticizing the record, because in all other respects Adebisi Shank, a power trio from Wexford, Ireland, created out of the ashes of an earlier «post-rock» project, Terrordactyl, build up one of the strongest cases for «math rock» that I have ever witnessed (although be sure to take my words with a grain of salt, since I am anything but a solid expert on these hip new genres). Their older peers, like Don Caballero, and their contemporaries like Battles may have collected more fame under their belts, but this is mainly due to different marketing strategies — Battles go for a more public image, whereas Adebisi Shank mainly keep to themselves and let their music do all the talking, and I do mean all: there is no singing whatsoever, other than a few electronically processed and looped vocal bits from time to time, nor do they waste their times on music videos (although their live shows have gained an exceptionally high reputation).
Now, in general, «math rock» is a dubious enterprise. In their hyper-rationalistic efforts to find the «perfectly complex» combination of beats, chords, and effects even the best representatives of the genre (and it is hard to tell who the worst ones are, since math rock, by its essence, requires a mega-level of intellect, technique, and creativity) may drive themselves into the quagmire of purposelessness (well, then again, real mathematicians sometimes do that, too). So when I first heard about these guys and decided to give them a first try, I was certainly skeptical — especially since my latest math-rock experience had been with BATS, where the first three or four songs are usually awesome, and then the headaches begin.
But Adebisi Shank ain't anything like BATS and their «heavy metal trigonometry», or even like Battles and their chipmunk robot fantasies. The difference is that, while all those bands do the kind of «robot rock» you'd expect a robot to produce if the robot were pressed into inventing rock music, Adebisi Shank do the kind of «robot rock» you'd expect a robot to produce if the robot wanted to create his own impression of a previously experienced and «assimilated» wild rock'n'roll band, let's say, with a slice of Celtic heritage (be it AC/DC, Slade, Thin Lizzy, or U2, echoes of all of whom — and many more — may be heard throughout the album).
Most of the instrumentals are taken at fast, pouncing tempos. The rhythm section is almost completely dependent on the powers of drummer Mick Roe, who isn't much about tricky, off-beat polyrhythms à la Bill Bruford, but sometimes sounds like a finally disciplined and harnessed avatar of Keith Moon — filling up as much space as possible with his loud and surprisingly melodic bashing, but all of it according to a strictly pre-planned and perfectly realized strategy. Bass guy Vinny McCreith (whose stage gimmick consists of always wearing a mask while playing — he says it's all about having the audience concentrate just on the music, but maybe he's just an IRA veteran on the run) usually provides the main riffs and melodic developments throughout the show: the bass is laid on in such thick, distorted swabs, that most of the time you will probably be playing air bass to these tracks than air six-string.
Not that any of this means depriving guitar guy Larry Kaye from what is rightfully his: there is plenty of guitar riffage as well (usually doubling the bass), and when he gets around to soloing, the two-handed tapping technique, long associated with the self-indulgence of pointless «guitar wankery», displays a fuck-'em-all spirit set against the relentless jackhammer punch of the drums and the brutal bass onslaught. Larry also seems like the only player out of the three who is sometimes allowed to improvise, and when he does, the guitar bursts out in splatters of punkish anger, showing that our robot has probably even spent some time in the company of the Stooges.
Individual tunes, be it on the EP or the LP, are all but useless to name — they are about as different as individual tunes on an AC/DC album (actually, the guitar tone and snappy chords of the main riff to ʽMini Rockersʼ might have made Angus and Malcolm very happy): if you are truly impressed by one of these compositions, you will probably want the enchantment to last to the very end, and if you are not, you probably just don't have enough robot blood floating in your veins. I will tentatively single out ʽColin Skehanʼ as a personal favourite (mainly for the ultra-cool stop-and-start false coda), and ʽYou Meʼ as the album's deviating tune (it's got the only vocals on here, even if they only consist of the song title, distorted and looped as befits a robot freshman, recently initiated into the wonders of kick-ass rock'n'roll).
If you are interested, be sure not to miss the EP as well — compared to the longplay, it is even heavier, although, fortunately, that heaviness is of the neo-garage type rather than the death metal type. (ʽJump Cutʼ, with its choppy chords, is particularly telling, although the song eventually switches over to a somewhat romantic mood, becoming a suitable background for a never written Bruce Springsteen epic; they do not go for that kind of sentimentality on the LP). Limitations of their chosen genre, and its inborn deficiencies (such as the very hard task of imbuing this stuff with «soul», although the band really works wonders within the formula), obviously prevent it from the status of an all-time classic, but not from a solidly guaranteed thumbs up.
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