Record Swap: Rolderathis Vs Snooty McWords
Welcome back to Record Swap, where two lost souls share personally esteemed albums whilst swirling in a toilet bowl, year after year. The rules of engagement are simple: go in blind,
kno wing nothing of each other’s selection, and try to milk buckets of clout and/or praise from the opposition. Who will walk away from the carnage? The ornery owl, or the dapper doggo? In this edition, Rolderathis and Snooty McWords raise their dukes with albums from uKanDanZ and Assemblage 23.
Rolderathis’s Assignment: uKanDanZ – Awo
Don’t let the “forgotten trance b-sides (remix)” artwork fool you, this baby packs a wallop. And by “wallop,” I mean as soon as you step in the ring and bring up your gloves, it’s already clocked you twice over the back of the head with a vintage suede-upholstered folding chair and served you two courses of stuffed portobello and a handmade hummus plate h’ors douevres with a side of smoked cactus. You may ask yourself, “wait, so is this going to be smooth or jarring?” to which I reply: yes. Yes, it is. <-Snooty McWords
Can a voice be jazz? Is vocalist Asnake Guebreyes a distant cousin of Lacertilian? The eclectic quintet of uKanDanZ is more interested in raising questions than they are providing easy answers; only one thing is certain as the bizarre sounds of their album, Awo, vibrate against the bones in my ears: this is exactly the kind of music a top hat-wearing canine would listen to.
As the sun rises in the intro track, “Tchuhetén Betsèmu,” timid instruments emerge from their burrows; at first bare-bones and uncertain, the layers of guitar, bass and saxophone quickly rally together—safety in numbers. Before long, the chaotic cadence of Asnake’s Ethiopian tongue soars overhead, bolstering the confidence of his bandmates. Together, they are a pack of hunting dogs, scrappy and ready to challenge perceptions.
This vocal style is a far cry from my usual stew of shrieks and grunting, and as with every new experience, every foray into unknown lands, there is discomfort and growing pains to overcome. Asnake’s voice is equally likely to please (with the more aggressive tone and wordless yelps of “Lantchi Biyé)” as it is to grate with its sometimes repetitive, sometimes rambling qualities. You know when the deathcore guy slams 800 words about dismantling a corpse into one line, regardless if it fits the music? Sort of like that. It’s this amorphous quality that calls jazz to mind, more so than the music underneath.
While I have a complicated relationship with the vocals, I’m a big fan of the King Crimson influence that permeates the album. Imagine “21st Century Schizoid Man,” but with sand blowing into your every crevasse. The blunt, pompous phrasing of the riffs is everything I’m looking for in rock music (with the sax backing the rhythm section, the tone is THICCer than the La Brea Tar Pits. Across the first half of the album, the songs become increasingly sinister, lumbering towards doom metal in their slowest moments and conjuring images of mirages above sun-baked earth (or is this wavering in the air a sign of restless spirits)?
When the band peels back the layers in later tracks “Gela Gela” and “3 – Sèwotch men yelalu,” the cracks in the stone begin to widen. “Gela Gela” meanders around with soft conga drums and bass for much of its 6 minutes, reminding me of a caravan lost in the desert, searching for sustenance among the dunes. It’s pleasant enough, but feels much less focused than the album’s shorter songs; the languid atmosphere would’ve been more effective as a brief interlude. Thankfully, the epic-length closer, “Ambassel to Brussel,” sees the band playing to every member’s strengths; Asnake gives his most varied performance, dialing back his staccato style for some urgent crooning, and the saxophone takes center stage with extended solos.
Snooty was mostly spot-on with his recommendation—the intense grooves, varied song structures and punchy production are all very much in my wheelhouse. I feel Asnake’s vocals are an acquired taste, and while I doubt he’ll ever be in my list of favorite singers, he does bring something truly unique to the record. As with most albums I end up giving a hoot about, just a few listens aren’t enough to fully wrap my bird brain around Awo. With enough sand through the hourglass, uKanDanZ will most likely continue to grow on me.
Snooty’s Assignment: Assemblage 23 – Defiance
Snooty is a bit of an enigma: a friend to animals in need, a lover of cylindrical headware and an all-around eccentric fellow. What sort of metal could I send him that he hasn’t already conversed about with his pupper pals at the local watering bowl? Then it dawned on me—I needed to dig deep down, to where all of the most curious (and delicious) morsels are stored. As a fledgling, my first internet friend introduced me to an expansive netherworld, a place where the joyful pulse of dance music fused with dark subject matter in an intoxicating brew. My one goal now is to share the same experience, and get him dancing, four (paws) on the floor. -Rolderathis
It was Wednesday night in The Year 2000. The world had just been destroyed by Y2K, and society had calmly settled into the idea that the shooting at Columbine High School was just a one-time event caused by Lone Wolves and Marilyn Manson. The nauseatingly lukewarm sounds of ‘Smooth’ by Santana (feat. Rob Thomas) had finally drifted to number 2 on the Billboard charts behind Christina Aguilera’s ‘What a Girl Wants‘.
You sit in the backseat of an aluminum-gray 1988 Toyota 4-Runner, parked on the street around the corner from Rock Island, a poorly lit fledgling of an undecided venue; too sparse to be a proper club and too open to be a bar. You swig from a plastic bottle of Mountain Dew and McCormick’s and ceremoniously pass it to your comrade. She grabs it without putting down her half-smoked Camel Filter and uses her other hand to brush the freshly dyed hair out of her face. A few sips more and you will be ready for a 4-hour marathon of sad seaweed impersonation, punctuated with the faux Kung Fu of endless adolescence.
It is Goth Night.
‘Opened’ begins with a blissfully short intro of whispered ambiance, before launching into a series of sounds that are instantly recognizable; the driving kick and snare samples straight from the Trent Reznor MVP playbook, giving a familiar urgency and warmly industrial edge to the layers of keyboards and other bubbling synths. The vocals emerge from the comfortable cradle of scooped womb-like frequency midrange, adorned with a tasteful dash of chorus and mild flanging. The music is your life and the lingering voice is your narrative, both pained and triumphant, sad yet persistent. It is here that you can embrace, become, and release the demons accumulated throughout drudgery of weeks in the trendy over-world.
When the throb of ‘Drive’ hits, you have already claimed your dance floor territory, carefully weaving in between swinging synthetic black dreadlocks and fingerless gloves plucking a bounty of poison apples from the laser-tag flavoured air. Your fishnets bunch up while you dance, and you yank them taught again in between songs.
The album continues, each song built for untold numbers of nameless unknown DJs to splice together in a nightly narrative of romantically futile catharsis. ‘Blindhammer’ drags down the tempo and grinds a heave of audio machinery into the depths of all that is dim and dark, while ‘Cocoon’ lays bare a low-key meditation on being alone, at least in mind, as he croons “the most derisive voice I hear is mine.” He is singing for you. You are him.
>As it fades, the feeling of a perpetual and fated journey thumps out of the thrusting low-end pulse that you can’t tell if you’ve heard 1000 times or never before, and as you reach your outstretched, nail-polished hands to grab the sailing chorus from the air, desperate to hold onto the words “this is the document to prove I was here…to prove I was at all,” you know it doesn’t matter.
The songs ebb and flow to the same rhythm as that of dancers floating on and off the sidelines, their careening path only periodically interrupted by the entropy of visits to the bar or the jarring lights of bathroom mirrors.
The album as it stands today is a wormhole tenuously anchored to lost impressions and forgotten atmospheres of the past, a tragic portal to the hope and agonies of youth, collapsing now even as you listen.