Review Summary: We write with lament and explosions.Storm and Stress
sounds exactly like that: a Texas-sized downpour gathering against a blackened sky; or, rather, that jumble of raging inner turmoil that strains against our insides we call “emotions.” The band derive their name from the 19th century German artistic movement, Sturm und Drang
, which acted as a revolution for those who felt creatively controlled by the imposed Enlightenment movement. The artists of this period stressed that the objectivity inherent in Enlightenment ideals of rationalism failed to fully express the complexities and extremes of human emotion. The literature was characterized by protagonists led to violent actions through revenge or some other irrationality; the music by its predominant use of minor key and irregular tempos meant to reflect intense emotional reactions.
In layman’s terms, Storm and Stress are an improvisational group, taking the three most basic tools (guitar, bass, drums) to create long, unwieldy shapes without distinguishable forms. This debut is by definition noise for the sake of noise, a reactionary experiment to the cult following their live performances attracted, and by no means casual listening. Each instrument talks to the other in stream-of-consciousness dialogue, wordless sentences that say more than words could, and the trick makes these emotions purely carnal. If only there were a better way of explaining how these drums pummel, in parts ferocious and soothing, how the guitar cuts the paunch of these bulging midsections until the silence stretched around each note threatens to suffocate the very life out of them. Titles like “Today is Totally Crashing & Stunned in Bright Lights” act not only as metaphors for the music therein but for the day you “get it,” when that jumble of raging inner turmoil that strains against your insides is jettisoning one note after the other out of the stereo.
Those familiar with the name Ian Williams and his work in Battles (and the earlier ‘90s Don Caballero albums) might be surprised by the stylistic 180° he underwent during the decade after lending his guitar talents here, but his mastery of the craft explains how tangible knots of melodies find their havens amongst the angles. I have, probably foolishly, described Storm and Stress as “post-rock,” though its main gimmick is notably pre-rock, but for those emotionally invested enough, the album can easily recall the fragility inherent in Slint’s Spiderland
and Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock
. In the popular argument of objectivity versus subjectivity in music, Storm and Stress create an interesting case for both: it is music virtually dependent on the emotional reaction it will receive, and yet becomes a beautiful achievement in songwriting when that concept is breached.