Album review: GASTRIC BAND – Party Feel

Gastric Band

Armellodie Records [Release date: 03.06.13]

With a line up comprising two drummers and three guitarists with additional synths, loops, samples and percussion, Scotland’s awfully titled Gastric Band are clearly not your ordinary beat combo.

Party Feel is anything but an easy ride, but once you identify the grooves, the fast repeated motifs and grasped the quickly shifting musical landscapes and the essential interrelationship between several conflicting musical ideas, there is much to enjoy.

At times this album feels like one of those impenetrable works of modern art where the sheer density of the whole obscures the intricate beauty of the interwoven brush strokes, but Gastric band’s signature style is anchored by subliminal musical triggers. There’s lightning guitar lines,  insistent percussive patterns and jagged keyboard to shape shifting circular modulated sounds and a number of subtle resolutions to self imposed musical tensions.

But unlike such works of art and several cacophonous free form albums , Gastric Band never lose sight of the fact they are a band playing with a common purpose. This is especially so on the heavy arrangement, shifting dynamics and rich guitar interplay of ‘Dustin Binman’

Their canvas may be huge but they never totally abandon their discipline, overlapping one musical colour with another, and when they apparently exhaust a micro musical idea they dip their collective brushes into another musical palate and start afresh. The confusing thing is the stop-start nature of their approach often happens within the confines of the same song, but once you are locked into the percussive groove the music is not as obtuse as you might imagine.

The ironically titled ‘It’s Good But It’s Not Right’ is an edgy and challenging opening track. Propelled by a insistent shattered glass rhythmic pulse, it finds its sense of progression in the seismic interplay between the opaque densely woven guitar lines, bristling cymbal work and subtly shifting rhythms that pull the listener in confusingly different directions.

The dense wall of sounds and guitar and keyboard slashes are consistently underpinned by a tight rhythmic structure that suggest a linear progression. By the time of the bombastic finish you almost feel exhilarated.

The title of ‘Dustin Binman’ reflects its metal inspired cacophonous crunch but not perhaps the jaunty Fripp style fractured guitar parts or the Eno’s style modulated noodles that are closer to jazz/rock than anything else.

The focus is on fast time signatures, short sharp restless guitar runs and clashing musical opposites. The micro melodies, chiming guitars and tinkling percussion momentarily meshes into an eastern tinged wall of sound, anchored and shaped by some rock solid drumming.

Gastric Band shifts from deconstructed rock to electronic noodles, prepared noise distortion and keyboard led surges which give everything an edge. The frenzied climax to ‘Binman’ could have been King Crimson out take.

‘Brad Shitt’ moves the band closer to electro fusion and Zappa’s mid 80’s synclavier generated sampled sounds but with a warmer more uplifting feel. By the 2 minute mark the piece achieves a ringing cadence (check out Man’s ‘H Samuel Jam’) before reverting to the root riff and eventually gliding into a restrained keyboard figure before a final return to the theme.

This is essential instrumental music full of vitality, unfettered energy and real drive, realised by a shifting collage of sounds. ‘Sexy Grandad’ is a thinly disguised heavy piece of fractured prog rock with saw tooth guitar, distorted organ and even a fleeting drum solo before an edgy, trembling keyboard line leads into a refracted resolution. Take away the distortion and you have an accessible piece of Proggy jazz.

‘Under A Glass Table’ generates a feeling of grandeur and reaches back to the early 70’s European jazz-rock era, but being 2013 it comes as a shock to the system in a landscape dominated by accessible unchallenging music.

‘Party Feel’ is much more than old wine in new bottles as it unceasingly explores new territories, even if the imposing sonic layers are propped up by familiar building blocks.  ‘Under A Glass Table’ does after all work towards a very conventional finale, albeit with explosive thunderous percussion that eventually evaporates into electronic distortion. It’s almost as if the piece is gobbled up their own musical tail.

If you enjoy heavy King Crimson riffs, Eno electronic soundscapes, Zappa’s sound samples, and you have a jam band sensibility and like graphic art work then this album might just be for you. **** (4/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra



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