Review Summary: Mechasnek Sextet
A certain strain of contentious and sometimes brilliant music is evoked when phrases like “improvising post-punk w/ saxophones and voice” and “nine songs loosely based around one character trying to make sense of modernity” are seen on a British outfit’s Bandcamp page. Excited? I’m not sure either.
The band in question today have nothing to lose and everything to gain right from the word Robocobra. Following that word with Quartet tames the tiger a little, perhaps even suggests a formal streak, but wait — six musicians are credited? What might one reasonably expect if even their name can’t be trusted? Well, Squid aren’t Squids, and Black Midi use real instruments, so, uh, expect spoken word delivering lyrics pulled from corners of Wordpress better left unplumbed. Expect humble beginnings, obnoxious endings; maybe some clips of band members farting to lighten the mood. Expect humorous and oddly predictable subversion, perhaps led by a drummer-vocalist. Expect middle class aspirations grinding against musical talent of the tertiary variety. Expect accolades and hyperbole.
Well, Eunice, focus your failing eyes on that bingo card, because you’ve got at least a line.
Let’s dial back the unnecessary sass. There’s no need to shout, “BINGO, THEY’RE SHITE” just yet; these Belfastians are class and sometimes make very good music. What kind of class, you ask? Really quite specifically the I-wear-a-suit-and-play-post-punk-and-smoke-cigarrettes kind of class to be honest, but they have played Montreux Jazz Festival and say “fuck” on record, so it’s probably justified. What kind of very good music do they sometimes make then? Ask the killer rhythm section first. A subtle maestro mans a drumkit that cuts straight down the middle with a viscerally flappy kick drum, and an array of crystal clear bass tones capable of (and tasked with) carrying entire songs on their backs lay down some thick sourdough which is suitably buttered by various reeds carrying airs breezy and bountiful.
Truthfully, this only gets the band so far, and a listener’s benefit of the doubt may have subsided by the time they trudge through the lethargic first three minutes of ‘Chromo Sud’, but hang in there! The back half of the track actually goes somewhere! Washes of keys expand outward from a slowly maneuvering bassline, brass flickers at the edges before one of many saxes hits center stage, the drums get busy and provide an injection of pace, the soloing sax gets to bloody rippin’, and for the first time in this listening experience excitement abounds. These slithery androids feel it too, and stretch this hypnotic section for a decent length before letting it gently descend into silence. This is the kinda content that’ll get me spouting track-by-tracks against my better judgment.
‘Plant (The Succulent Blues)’ manages to follow this lengthy centerpiece amiably, with even the lyricism scanning as less “discarded packaging makes me question whether existence is worthwhile” and more “christ my life is dismal, feel it with me”. For those wondering, this is a vast improvement. Admittedly, improving on our protagonist facetiously documenting the way his Modern Man Blues has him obsessing over the exactitude of his sleep, the pH content of his urine, the effectiveness of Himalayan salt lamps, and the benefits of charcoal-activated water shouldn’t be too difficult.
Nevertheless, the headline here is Potential, Potential, Potential!
Is this a silly thing to say about a rather well-established band who appear to be eking out a living in one of the world’s most unforgiving industries? Yes, but remember you fuckin’ nerds, we’re here out of love. Personally, I’d love to see this band punch out further in any direction: whether that’s making the dramatic noisy stuff more violent (or lengthy) than the cute little outburst that punctuates ‘Kilmore Close’, diving headlong into the shimmering subtlety that is sometimes hinted at, or perhaps merging these facets into something authoritative and entirely their own. Let’s see that vocalist inject an array of emotions and the keys make more appearances. Let’s see you nosedive a song into a jazz freakout outta absolutely nowh—