As Bucketheads, we frequently debate what rocks, what sucks, and what we can universally categorize as a resounding “meh.” Talia Plant and I have the latest entry. A Straw Assembly’s new album A Little More Life seemed intriguing at first, but eventually had us rolling our eyes way back in our skull.
Let it be known that this may be listed under the ‘not so bipolar’ bipolar reviews. Chris sheds light on obvious traits of A Straw Assembly’s latest record, leaning towards the more monotone side of things and lacking some exciting pull.
Unfortunately,I must agree. Two snobby critics for the price of one? Who wouldn’t want that! A Straw Assembly seem to have the right idea when it comes to sounding good as an ensemble and made me expect something inspired by The Claypool Lennon Delirium, but fell flat a little before the breakthrough point we all crave when served a fresh plate of psychedelia. Laying more on the narrative that sticking to the same overall tone will keep you safe, A Little More Life tends to be repetitive. Moments where different instruments are let shine individualistically, bring more depth and really lend more to the idea of an overall psychedelic feel. Some droning moments also seem well placed as they are reminiscent of Tool or certain Pink Floyd shaped ideas. All tracks seem to flow in the same direction, and even though they tend to be quite harmonious, this ends up in a lack of diversity rather than a relaxing channeling of emotion. “Creeping Hands” is easily the creepiest song, which I can appreciate because this gives more space for the distortion of perception; which is exactly what the psychonaut music nerd will always crave.
With somewhat scatterbrained ideas, A Straw Assembly are obviously peaking through to another universe in some brief moments, but not fully transcending the world of alternative psychedelic music. Staying away from overly-nasal vocals, and an excessively monotone feel could very well be a little push into a more complete and versatile direction.
The psychedelic folk rock ensemble from Sydney, Australia recorded their 2018 debut Skyfeed in Indonesia. This time, the group recorded their follow-up A Little More Life in a small room in Auckland, New Zealand. They claim the album is a “musical take” on the novel A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which chronicles the life of four friends living in New York City, as they struggle with addiction and trauma. With that in mind, the mood of the album travels into some dark and haunting territory.
The opening track “A Saint Is Divided” starts off small, but bit by bit, we are introduced to a new instrument, one at a time. Ooh, is that a trumpet? Piano? As expected. Violins? Of course! A banjo? That’s cool I guess. Flutes? Seems a bit excessive. What kind of Arcade Fire type shit is this?!
By the end of the track, they all swell together and begin swarming like insects in the second track “Siege,” the longest track off the album clocking in at over seven minutes. I suppose I’m not used to hearing such an extensive song so early in the tracklist. Each instrument sounds almost animalistic as they moan, howl and screech as if they’re all being sent on a funeral march on the way to the slaughterhouse. When they all come together, like in the end of “Rollcall,” it creates this chaotic soundscape that sucked me in.
But just when it starts to get good, they bring it back to simple, stripped-down soothing tracks like “Lispenard St” and “Hiroki’s Bench.” And that’s when they lost me. I grew annoyed with M Lane’s nasally voice, and a certain dullness settled in. As the album winded down, I found myself less excited, and I just wanted it to wrap up. The darkness was gone, devolving into light-hearted drivel. The lyrics are very poetic, but reading along, I wasn’t able to connect to any of its imagery. Although I’m impressed by the musicianship at times, I don’t think I would voluntarily listen to this again, unless I needed help going to sleep.
Written by Talia Plante & Chris Aitkens
*Edited by Dominic Abate