Schnaak - Wake Up Colossus [Discorporate Records - 2011]Scandinavia's Schnaak is a new project that just released their debut "Wake Up Colossus", a fine statement of smooth, fluent and groovy 'math rock' with tastefully integrated tinges of jazz, stoner metal and hardcore. Their angular guitar stylings recall the unpredictable rhythms and irreverent, out of the box thinking of bands like Deerhoof, Melt Banana, and Ruins, but the focus is clearly on songwriting rather than gratuitous technicality. Impressively, this band is a duo, something I did not realize at first because of the fullness of their sound.
This band rocks as hard as anything by Boris (who share their love of sludgy retro riffing) or Fantomas (who similarly engages in off kilter permutations of rhythms), yet perfectly understands taste and dynamics as well. Songs like "Tiki" show this best; the song is mostly sparse percussion and dreamy video game-esque saw wave synthesizers (which the guitarist plays in alternation with the guitar). They only erupt into a firestorm riffing within the last minute, to quite satisifying dramatic effect.
The warm, fuzzed out guitar tone is perfect for the subtley melodic riffs and percolating staccato stabs of harmonics. It's got tube amp warmth, and the thick body required for those stoner metal riffs, but surprisingly little harshness. The band also uses its share of digital ring modulation effects and the like to intermittently transform the guitar into a creator of synthy sci fi effects. Through this they get the sort of alien 'far out' vibe that bands like The Locust have.
Irreverence and absurdist mischief are applied with taste here. There are no overt jokes or funny moments that would reduce this music to novelty status, or worse yet, Mr. Bungle imitation. Rather it is the strangely sing-songy atonal melodies and endlessly rearranging structures themselves which make the listener smile. As a result, repeated listenings make this album feel all the more intelligent and emotive, rather than shallow and irritating.
They also seem to be attempting a new musical concept in just about every track, something it requires real creativity to accomplish. By the time I reach the final "Tigrillo and the Cheese Fly", in which the duo is augmented by several classical instruments, it's hard to wrap around what I'm hearing. The first two minutes of the song are entirely orchestral, and gorgeous at that.
The drummer deserves special mention. Every beat he plays seems to inspire a strange bouncy dance, and he sounds so natural playing these odd meters that I would believe he practiced them since he was a small child. He has both jazz fluidity and metal power.
Both members also sing, and the vocals are a pleasant surprise, though not at all the most prominent element in the music. Rather than bark, shriek, shout or make some other odd gutteral noise, as would be typical of a band in this vein, they opt for a high, smooth croon, and prove themselves both to be tuneful and confident singers. The vocal lines are perfectly placed so as to make these potentially disorienting compositions very catchy. On the trip-hopish ballad "It Could Be Nicer Being Red", they even venture into the realm of sultry romantic emotion, and without an audible trace of sarcasm.
In conclusion, Schnaak's debut is among the most enjoyable, intelligent and powerful 'math rock' albums I've ever heard, and truly measures up to the work of any of the great artists I've mentioned in this review. In their hands, the often awkward genre becomes an amazing experience. Every one of these songs has details aplenty to discover, and yet is immediately enjoyable and perfectly kinetic. I love this album, and anyone with a taste for any kind of odd rock should check it out.Josh Landry