Ha! Every now and then an album comes along that really defies conventional description. ‘Black Square’ is one of them, which probably quite pleases Toronto five-piece DD/MM/YYYY. (The band explain the origins f their name thus: “We didn’t want a name we had to stick to, so we chose a name that would change for the date of each show. This proved too ridiculous and confusing, so we made it simple by referencing DD/MM/YYYY.)
Broadly speaking, this album which is the band’s UK debut although it was released in their home country and elsewhere in 2009, could be termed as ‘artrock.’ It’s unconventional, quirky, experimental and nicely discordant in places. And there is a healthy variation of styles within the twelve tracks and thirty-five minutes of the album.
‘Black Square’ opens with the clattering drums and distant, echo-inflected shouts of ‘Bronzage.’ It doesn’t stop to draw breath, but simply bulldozes its way through almost four minutes of really busy music with gang-shouts and wails. Great start!
‘No Life’ continues in much the same vein, with discordant guitars, off kilter drums and shout / response type vocals that remind me a little of London based French band Underground Railroad. Then, as if to prove their unpredictability, without any warning the controlled aggressive sound of ‘No Life’ morphs into the downbeat and quiet, introspective ‘They.’ It’s a big mood change alright!
Then we come back on track with ‘Infinity Skull Cube’ (see video below) which mixes scuzzy synth sounds with hooky guitar and a rhythm that more or less defies logic…. but works so well! Then comes a minute of electronic whine under the guise of ‘My Glasses’ which could actually just be the intro to the following track, ‘Birdtown.’ (You’re not going to get into any comfortable rhythm listening to this album!)
‘Birdtown’ is actually an instrumental that starts out with a deep, resonating synth sound before being joined by some partially discordant horns. It has more of a jazz feel to it than the rest of the album, and instantly I was reminded of the track ‘Birdland’ by Weather Report, from many moons ago. The two don’t necessarily sound the same but there are definite parallels.
There is perhaps a little cohesion to the planning of the track-listing after all, as ‘Sirius’ has a bit of a spazz jazz ring to it – all kinda free-form and at first listen, all over the place! ‘Lismer’ is a fierce, menacing and threatening instrumental, leaning heavily on the synth and powerful drums. ‘Real Eyes’ adds frantic vocals (not the sing-a-long kind, in case you were wondering) to a completely freaked out backing, while ‘$50,000 Guitar Head’ again features the by now familiar and integral time changes, augmented by some sporadic Zappa / Beefheart styled vocals.
‘I’m Still In The Wall’ is one of my favourites. The guitar hook is repetitive to the point of overshadowing everything else, but the drumming and electronic blips and bleeps together with the distorted shouts / vocal make this a really interesting and enjoyable three and a half minutes.
Final track ‘Digital Haircut’ has some stilted shout / response dual vocals over the top of the seemingly random (but obviously not) backing.
I was a big fan of Captain Beefheart back in the day. This is nothing like the old Captain, but it’s as unsettling, weird and strange. It’s also pretty darned good!
(Released –in the UK – through Invada on 27th September 2010)