Jazzcore dissected - IN SEARCH OF SPACE #37

After last week’s well-received Little Women appraisal (re-iteration: if you haven’t yet bought and come to a conclusion about Little Women’s Throat record, what are you doing with your life?) I was advised to dig up and check out Naked City, a Brooklyn band who take the same psychotic jazz math-metal and apply it to grindcore. As a chap of the heavy persuasion, I have been known to dip my toe in the whirling rapids of grindcore, but can never have been said to be a fully-fledged without-reservation fan. I sing the praises of Nails from the rooftops ‘till someone asks me to leave and Coalesce are kind of grindcore’s Cobalt for me; very real alternative to the classics of the genre, but I’d never call myself a fan in the same way as I would of drone metal. Sure I like speed and I get really excited when an album has a sub-three minutes song because getting to the point is something I praise highly; but so often whatever musical interest I have evaporates under the unrelenting clusterfuck of unintelligible noise as three second songs come and go. While a fast commute is always great, you wouldn’t want to travel to work straddling a ballistic missile Dr. Strangelove style, there is a limit to speed before it just becomes an end in itself or a liability.

So as I said, Naked City grasp the same jazz-infused method and apply it to grindcore, most successfully on their 1989 album Torture Garden (re-released in 1997), over the course of its 42 tracks and 25 minutes (yeah, welcome to grindcore – and only yesterday I was listening to Boris, only Boris can have a nine-minute track titled ‘intro’) the band indulge in extremities of genre, throwing in thrash metal riffs, jazz solos, some proto-Little Women-esque horn sections and screaming vocals from the circus clown cousin of Silencer’s Nattramn. But that doesn’t sound fucked up enough! Why not have some easy-listening, country, muzak, organs and mash the whole lot together so violently it seems like the logical sound created by a jazz orchestra and a grindcore band’s vans being involved in a prolonged and horrifying car accident, with the audience trapped inside the warped metal as fire-crews desperately try to cut you out. There are certainly more moments of familiarity than Little Women’s jazz voyage to Planet X and so the primary tone shifts from discomfort verging on panic to something approaching humour. There is a kind of surreal pleasure to be had as a 40 second song encompasses wildly sputtering vocal lines and then lurches almost unbelievably into lift music, and then in the next track drift smoothly into five seconds of guitar melody that wouldn’t be out of place in Boys of Summer.

But the eternal question surrounding all serious music critique ought to be this: to what does it all add up? What is the cumulative effect of all of the thousands of tiny (often unconscious) decisions made by the artist? Honestly, with Naked City, the mind-blitzing first listen and the downright hysterical second listen aligns the music most clearly with old Warner Bros. Cartoons; y’know, Wiley Coyote and the like with sharp shifts in tone and huge theatrical leaps and vaults over missing composition or bridges. It challenges the ‘Avant-garde’ label not because of any escape from the genre specifications but because it’s pretty listenable, unlike most ‘avant-garde’ music, which spends its whole time like James Joyce Ulysses, being forever admired or praised but never enjoyed.

This is an album that is definitely a novelty, and no doubt the vast majority of people would use the adjective ‘unlistenable’ except in their stupid annoying accent; but then again those are the same people that ensured the most successful film of all time was Avatar and the Christmas number one was dreary charity nonsense (no, I’m not saying charity isn’t a good cause, I give regularly to charity but I don’t want a terrible toothless record in return). It is becoming clearer by the day that most people have no taste, but then I suppose that is the definition of taste. And that probably sounds like a pathetic elitist argument decrying the popular and reaching for something purely because it is esoteric and idiosyncratic; and that’s probably because it is.

Written under duress by Steven.

Have a wee gander at Kvelertak if you want some more.

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