Review Summary: Glassjaw's third 2011 release.
There is nothing more cathartic for the troubled mind than expression. The medium is irrelevant and unimportant; the exercise may be writing down thoughts, laying bare your emotions with paint on canvas, or composing a set of four energetic songs that ***IN' THRASH YEAAH m/. The hilariously titled supergroup-of-sorts North Korea have opted for the third choice, and they deliver fantastically. Basement Tapes is a release in the vein of post-hardcore greats such as Glassjaw and At the Drive-In in the sense that it is frantic, captivating, and maintains an intimate atmosphere despite the chaotic nature of the genre.
Starting with the strings, bassist Michael Sadis (lol rhyme) is probably the most underwhelming of the four members, but does what good bassists do: sucks up his pride, ignores his inner Geddy Lee, and lays down an excellent 250 Hz backbone to support the other members. The music is acerbic (in a good way) enough without the bass fighting for the spotlight as well. Guitarist Brian Byrne demonstrates great variety in his playing; he opens Don't Call Us Joneses
with a remarkably funky line that plays an interesting counter-melody off of the vocal line, transitions later into a section with percussive pick-scrapes that accent the drums, and closes the same song with an aggressive, off-time, low-register riff. The chorus of Master Plan B
and the intro of Laced
both feature dissonant, ambient lines that allow the vocals and drums to fill the empty space, generating strong and effective dynamics. For the most part, the only beauty to behold in Byrne's work is the beauty of the storm; only those with a developed appreciation for dissonance will enjoy it.
Much of the caustic ambiance is undoubtedly due to the corybantic drumming of Billy Rymer, resident cluster***er at DEP Incorporated. Essentially, Basement Tapes sees Rymer playing for Dillinger, except all of the other members have been replaced by those of North Korea. The chaos of Dillinger has manifested itself into North Korea through Rymer; present in every song are lightning fast fills, off-beat accents on cymbals and toms, and ghost notes out the wazoo. Often, he keeps the beat on either the ride or crash and simply accents the guitar on the kick and snare, giving the section a sense of frenzied urgency. No song ever bores, as a forward momentum is always maintained by picking up and dropping off intensity as the music demands it.
As Rymer is very expressive with his kit, Ryan Hunter is very expressive with his voice. Due to his very controlled vibrato and effective use of crescendo and glissando, Hunter is immediately reminiscent of Daryl Palumbo. He dances around his excellent vocal range with an ever-changing timbre, adding interesting inflections in unexpected places. Sometimes, such as in the beginnings of both Don't Call Us Joneses
, Hunter addresses the listener in a style very near spoken-word, and at others he utilizes a harsh scream to increase tension and add to the cacophony of the passage. The vocal stylings on the album are evocative of a live performance; instead of writing a melody for the record and then embellishing that melody with improvised intricacies live, Hunter provides the intricacies here. The result is a much more engaging listen, though in turn the release is also far less suited for any sort of “sing-along”, and there is less room for further improvisation at shows. Hunter's lyrics are often angry, though that anger never strays beyond a playful tone which the EP benefits greatly from because Basement Tapes as a serious release is much less entertaining than Basement Tapes as a fun release. In Master Plan B
, Hunter croons, “you make believe you've got stones between those legs”, and addresses former bandmate Salvatore Bossio as “Sally”. If real malice was expressed with his lyrics, it would ruin the mirthful tone of the release and make everything much less enjoyable.
One of the few true issues with Basement Tapes is the production; the EP was recorded in a basement (hence the title), and feels very flat at points. A greater depth and fullness in the mix would really bring the release to life. As it is now, the toms often sound like cardboard and at points the guitar could well be playing from behind a wall; however, the production is a minor issue as the writing and performances are great, and basements are really ***ing metal anyway. Basement Tapes, Vol. 1 is an enjoyable release from start to finish, and though it may have all been done before, it's rarely been done this well.
North Korea is:
Ryan Hunter – Vocals (formerly of Envy on the Coast
Brian Byrne – Guitar (formerly of Envy on the Coast
Michael Sadis – Bass (of The Rivalry
Billy Rymer – Drums (of Dillinger Escape Plan
, The Rivalry