Review Summary: Strange, yet impressive post-something-or-other.
Recently I’ve been bender listening to duos from the greater punk genre. I must admit, something about only two people getting together and making a loud ***ing racket that could easily drown out a 13 member post-rock band (see: Lightning Bolt
) holds a lot of appeal to me. Obviously, it’s not quite a fetish that can be fed with particularly well known artists. In fact, my list of relatively main-stream bands that fit the criteria was The White Stripes, and I’m still not positive if they count. So, as I started to dig deeper I came to the conclusion that the reason these punk duos were so obscure was that they only formed to play music that no more than two people would actually have the heart to play (see: Lightning Bolt
), which in turn seems to lead to a smaller audience. It was fine with me though, rummaging around through Bandcamp looking for some schizophrenic strangeness had become a near hobby, because every once in a while I seem to stumble on to a gem like Spelling Bee.
are a (according to them) post-punk band based out of St. Louis, but I would classify them as a bit more a spazzed out post-hardcore band with huge math rock influences. As opposed to many of the well known bands that mix pseudo-emo, pseudo-post-hardcore and pseudo-math rock such as Algernon Cadwallader and their contemporaries, Spelling Bee
don’t mindlessly tap and noodle away into oblivion. Instead, front women Mabel Suen drops discordant riffs over and over again in complex, yet uniquely creative patterns while still spitting out her lyrics in a half-yell half-sing fashion. The lyrics themselves are frequently hard to understand, and are mixed evenly in to the music, with the instrumentation, and for the most part seem to be used as an instrument themselves to fill the space that would be obvious for lack of a bassist or second guitarist. For a large portion of the time Mabel’s vocals are the only ones present, but every once in a while the drummer chirps in his bit. For the most part the vocals are harmonized while both are present, but every once in a while their drummer will take the lead.
My one qualm is that the drumming is not nearly as impressive as the guitar work. It is something that is hard to fault though. The drumming is definitely buried under the guitar in the mixing, and when the drummer does get the chance to shine, such as in Killing Jar, he proves that he certainly has some drumming chops. It seems to not be an oversight, but merely the fact that the album is more guitar driven than drum driven. We also have to wonder if it’s not for our own safety. I predict that if the drums and guitar had equal volumes and levels of technicality the complex rhythms would induce the rare sound-driven seizures in their more epileptic listeners.
But of course, this is a style of music that could be easily grating. Certainly listening to forty minutes of consistent riffing at time signatures neither you nor I could possibly fathom would be a nightmare, shortly followed by a headache. Fortunately, and thankfully, Spelling Bee
craft an album that is concise (at nineteen minutes), creative, and keeps the moments of awesome, spazzed out punk are broken up by quieter moments. The longest song on the album, Omlettes, functions as a near interlude and ends with an impressive, jazzy saxophone solo.
come from a style of music that I can’t say I frequently listen to. In all honesty I can’t be sure that this style of music actually exists aside from them, but if it does they have made me a fan and a believer, and I’m completely thrilled about what the future holds for Spelling Bee