Rolo Tomassi review for the Quietus [extended version]
May 29, 2010, 1:24 am
Filed under: Album Reviews, Album Reviews: Noted Artists, Recommended Albums | Tags: , ,

In 2008, obliged to step up to the long-player challenge, Rolo Tomassi’s ambition and determination cost them a certain degree of inspiration. Their response to the swell of gathering acclaim was tangibly uptight, the dynamic sound defined the previous year either choked by careful planning or thinned by audacious overkill. The heavy-minded doomsday scenario that was Hysterics fell onto our desks as something of an abominable unyielding creation.

Hysterics worked on your solar plexus as capably as any hardcore worth its salt, but was somewhat coercing when compared to the EP, which sought instead to suspend the listener, elevating you by force of a sparking tornado of joyous gonzo musicology and those scuttling synth runs. While Hysterics’ murderously Byzantine mathcore put them on a par with the big swinging dicks in the field, the good news was that RT remained a far more expressive, visually evocative prospect than the likes of TDEP and the Jersey Boys’ comparatively macho brand of disturbed-Marine technical metal. Rather, it was the several forays into prog maximalism that disappointed, either in the case of the knotty ‘An Apology To The Universe’, the plain tedious ‘Everything Went Grey’ or fairly creaky closer ‘Fantasia’; ostensibly a 14 minute version of their hit-and-run bursts. Elsewhere on Side A and later on ‘Scabs’ there’s a chewier, less temporal post-hardcore bent, marginally static next to the doom/bleeps/jazz exchange upchucked onto their EP. In a recent Quietus interview the band intimated a slight dissatisfaction with Hysterics, particularly with how the songs played in a wired live setting. James Spence sees Cosmology as “an opportunity to set right the short-comings of that album, and make a set of songs that worked better”, which is why their next choice for producer is perversely ideal.

As a hit-maker and chameleonic pluralist, Diplo’s arrival promised a certain pop succulence and a rash of cheap hooks. But as a dance producer and capable mixologist (handy for the job of making sense of the avant punks’ rhythmic intricacies) it was even more intriguing to think a volatile new dance/rock hybrid might be in the making. Alas, if we were expecting, say, Coltrane-meets-Alex Empire, danceable studio-warped spazz, Melt Banana via John Zorn or TDEP with beats (God help our nerves) the Philadelphian’s input is almost imperceptible. As a guiding spirit and creative conduit though, it seems he’s helped to clear the air. Ultimately though it’s down to the band’s intelligence and iron will that Cosmology is a genuine tour de force, returning Rolo Tomassi to very vanguard of extreme rock.

Carried in on celestial synths, they begin in earnest with maniacal opener ‘Agamemnon’ and its snapping-jaw guitar, with death growl / palm mute fest ‘House House Casanova’ hot on its tail. Math micro-tunes sternly administered and puritanically shorn of the rock vulgarity that was creeping on to Hysterics, both tracks speak of a rejuvenated unit, intent on going straight from A to B and representative of a kind of roots return. ‘Party Wounds’ is contrastingly a progression for the band, but in a good way this time. Cleaner structurally, the tangents have momentum, purpose and even an notion of 4/4 funk, and are perfect tension builders for the whoomp moments orientated around a loud / quiet structure (extended to a stop-start moment, probably the apex of their career). Over leaden riffage and organ-setting synths the Spence siblings become embroiled in a battling duologue, which has worked like gangbusters every time they’ve ever tried it. Basically, ‘Party Wounds’ is wholly effective – linear, fluid, organic and eloquent amidst the chaos. Crucially it breathes – a restored sense of nuance that has to be partially attributed to Diplo’s landscaping.

The compositional deftness continues with the arresting ‘Unromance’ followed by the keynote ‘French Motel’ which coming in at under three minutes is the second shortest track on the album, yet seems colossal. To navigate this many movements in such a short period of time yet sustain a punchy coherency illustrates the gains they’ve made. Put another way, after scattershot drums and machine gun riffs, some bewildering free-form arhythmia, a collapsing guitar line a bit like falling girders and a doom depth-charge to finish, by the time Eva screams “There is no desire/ where’s your desire!” you’ll be able to taste your brain aneurysm as it presses down on the roof of your mouth.

‘Sakia’ is their prog hero moment, but considered, evenly distributed and boasts a strong melodic mooring. The ethereal synths at the start transmogrify into a longform giant, with the searching tone giving way to some math Sturm Und Drang, driving a mesh of wire caging between you and your hopes of having a nice day. Following the sprawl of ‘Kasia’ ‘Tongue-In-Chic’ is archetypical angry RT, with rhizomatic electronica bubbling under rascally mosh fodder. A soothing coda arrives so that they can prepare for the grand finale – the track set to close every Rolo Tomassi set until their 2045.

‘Cosmology’ is beautiful. Sheer magnificence amassed over five passages of varying leaps in pace, guided by James Spence’s synths that release a gently oscillating chime as bright as a halo. Someone is beyond her control, a lover?: “Is this enough? / Is this what you are thinking of?” she asks. Wow..they are young human kind after all. “I’m/ lost but you know…”. She lets the words sit and smoulder. Then: “…where I’ll be found”. Drums go, everything goes. From under wet, clamped eyes (drum-build) private thoughts are whispered almost inaudibly – something like_ “I’m free from your heart”. She screams, yet this time its borne of pain as much of rage or defiance – “I / fought / hard / SO!!!!!!!!!!!!”. Lift off. Megalithic citadels of light project from the vista and, fed by energies flowing from their tiny front woman, the night sky churns in infernal red and orange, because after all is there a force quite so powerful in the universe as a girl’s breaking heart. Her single-seater space pod is made infinitesimal within the frame as it journeys towards the solace of the exosphere. Really, really affecting stuff.

Mathcore conjures notions of complex physics, agnosticism, hard sci-fi, metallurgy and all types of things that make Prog its superficially improbable ally. Chiefly though, this horrible little development in music expresses) psychosis, the kind induced by exploring the language of the universe for the meaning of life yet never solving the equation. Perhaps the reason why ‘Cosmology’ opts to conclude in the fantastical is because -as many a scientist might attest – RT’s only chance for sanity lies in the stars. It’s a sad song that finishes in loneliness, but freedom for the authors, and us.

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