I’m not normally the type to review short EPs, because I’m a greedy fellow and I like, you know, quadruple albums. But this did catch my ears’ attention for a few reasons. Background: The Fierce and the Dead is an instrumental band from London that plays a fairly aggressive mix of avant-garde rock with progressive rock and touches of other things of a jazzy or post-rocky nature here and there. The music’s not for your shrinking violet who wants everything quiet and purdy, though there are some such passages to be found in the band’s music. Guitarist Matt Stevens has garnered a lot of respeck from the prog-rock community as sort of a dirtier-sounding Adrian Belew or some such, and it’s well-deserved praise, if you listen to his solo work. However, with his band he shows admirable restraint, locking into step with the other musicians and, as far as I can tell, rarely lowering himself to the level of wankery (though every now and then it is quite permissible, if you got the skills to show off!).
Magnet is comprised of four new pieces and a couple of bonus rehearsal room tracks (which sound quite good). This is my first real exposure to the band’s sound, and I was actually a bit surprised, considering that they appear to be mainly popular with prog-rock fans. The band says this is a departure for them, so perhaps their previous repertoire is a bit different.
Regardless, “Magnet in Your Face”, track 1, is NOT prog-rock, except in the widest possible definition. Frankly, the first name that came to mind was Hüsker Dü! In almost any universe, that’s pretty high praise. This is a bashy, frenetic track driven by some very enthusiastic (no, I never fucking say prop**sive) drumming. It’s so short that the comparison actually makes perfect sense.
“Palm Trees” is an angular piece that mixes fuzz bass worthy of a Ruins or Guapo album with some cleaner, chimier stuff that yeah, could have come off a Summers/Fripp collab, but the higher, distorted guitar sections are almost shoegazey as well. A very interesting and progressive track. The part where they bellow “Palm Trees!” is funny too, because this thing don’t sound like no tropical beach — more like a back alley in Sheffield! But what’s in a title anyway? And then the whole thing crescendos with a heavy section that brings us back to that Ruins reference. Nice!
“Flint” is where my tastes and this band really intersect, a weird, washy cacophonous piece with looped guitar and an almost funky beat…the looped guitar is very post-punk; I could hear this on a bill with Wire in 1982 or something like that. A very interesting piece on which Stevens shows himself to be more of a sonic craftsman than a mere axeman, making odd sounds and blending them into an enjoyable stew.
The EP’s best track, “Part 6 (The Eighth Circuit)”, follows, a few minutes of ambient post-rock guitar noise (and what I think is organ but may be some kind of bass pedal thing) and celestial upper neck tones…that’s some sweet modern psych music. I didn’t expect something this beautiful from noise merchants. A funky but solemn beat kicks in to lead into the outro. Really pretty stuff.
The last two tracks are rehearsal room stuff of some heavier/more energetic things to appeal the gritty late eighties college rocker in you (Dinosaur Jr. perhaps, but with good playing).
Well, you can call this prog if you want, but I think if you like stuff like This Heat, Wire, Random Hold, early eighties King Crimson, or any number of experimental post-punk acts, this would be right up your alley. A very impressive group that effectively combines noise and aggression with melody. I’ll be seeking out more of their music.