DEATH AND THE PENGUIN
I'll admit, I chose to review this purely on the strength of the band's name. I hoped I would at least get some mileage out of that crazy moniker even if the music turned out to be unexceptional. And, while I'll get to whether I like the music or not later, I've since learned that the band's name is taken from a novel by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov, which is told from the perspective of an aspiring author; and his struggle, I think, with reality. Bang goes my theory about murdering people with chocolate biscuits.
Death & the Penguin (I'm not writing that out in full again) cite Radiohead and The Mars Volta as signposts to their sound. My eyes were left watering though over that arse-quivering term 'Math', which announces itself like a haemorrhoid in the press release. This may give a sense of intelligent writing; math is hard, after all. It's a genre of music that is usually extremely well constructed, and often incorporates multiple time signature shifts. It doesn't, however, necessarily lead to good song-writing. Fans of Meshuggah, at least the ones in my head, often bleat about how technically clever and important their music is (they're djent, I know, bear with me!) I, for one, cannot stand it. It's difficult for luddites like me to follow polyrhythms and angular progressions that have been thrown into a blender with all the care of a teenager tidying their bedroom. I can, however, nod sagely at the effort that goes into the composition.
So, with scene set, is DATP's twelve-song album a casualty of cleverness over substance? In addition to their own stated influences, I also hear quite a bit of Syd Arthur, and Modest Mouse whom, like Radiohead, I enjoy quite a lot; albeit in small doses. And so, I'm genuinely torn with this album. On one hand, I can appreciate the complexity of what are smartly arranged songs, played with genuine skill. On the other hand, I can't say I came away from this wanting to hear it again. I cycled through the tracks about 3 times each, and I'll be buggered if I can remember most of them. That could be my appalling memory, but I suspect it's because the songs just aren't that memorable. They just don't sink in quite so immediately as those by their peers. There's an argument that truly great music reveals itself after multiple listens; once all the layers have been exposed and digested. I don't subscribe to that; why should enjoying music be a test of endurance and perseverance? Just for clarity, I do enjoy progressive music, so I'm not averse to songs that make you think.
There is one beacon, however, in the shape of ‘Was it Kindness’, which starts off very similar to ‘Pyramid Song’. It soon builds into a proggy jam, before coming to a close. I'll give it to DATP; their songs don't outstay their welcome. It's one hell of a shame that the other songs didn't grab me quite as much though. I feel bad in some way, giving this a middling score, because I feel it's as much my lack of understanding of this, as it is DATP's song-writing ability, that makes me so very much on the fence about 'Anomie'. So, with all the confusion this has brought, I can say that this is a respectable set of songs that will appeal to those who expect their music to be on a par with the most challenging literature; to be deconstructed and fawned over. I'll stick with my Calvin and Hobbes comics.
Review by Steve Cowan
27th July 2018
1) Hospital Song
2) The Calving Shuffle
3) Kill Saatchi
4) Space 1998
5) Colour in Me
6) Misha Lives
7) Driftwood (God Loves a Bird of Prey)
8) Strange Times
11) Was It Kindness?; 12) Bones
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a respectable set of songs that will appeal to those who expect their music to be on a par with the most challenging literature; to be deconstructed and fawned over."