Blending elements of metal, noise rock, art rock and pure sludge, Baton Rouge’s Shadow People bring a whole new meaning to the word “intense”. Contrasting sludgy riffs, grinding sounds and retching vocals against unexpected bursts of melody within three tracks that seem to blend into each other, their 2020 EP ‘Washing In Soap Opera’ is as a careening ten minute noise-fest. Its music is almost as frustrating and broken as the era in which it was created. …And yet, there’s something about this wanton ugliness that’s potentially brilliant.
At the scariest end of their scale of musical furies, ‘Why Don’t I Just Wear Tight Jeans…’ opens with a chopping, atonal riff set against a rhythm that ticks like a time bomb, instantly throwing the listener into a world of sounds so tense, it could be unbearable. Switching to a classic sludge riff, a Melvins-esque heaviness informs a few bars of very slow and intense riffing. At the point where listeners might begin to adjust, the band switches again, this time injecting speed into the ugliness. For the next couple of minutes, the sounds that emerge are prime Shadow People – a Transatlantic force that recalls the best parts of Leeds-based Superluxury, reinforced by a Jesus Lizard-ish vocal. What fragments of melody there are, seem almost suffocated by their desire to twist somewhere new after just a few bars each. Constantly keeping listeners on their toes, this collection of mangled riffs suggests a band who are absolutely bursting with ideas. If that comes at the expense of recognisable hooks, then so be it – the furious sounds that have been created here are rarely less than thrilling – much like hearing the complete works of Wizard Rifle condensed into three minutes.
‘Make Up Makes Up For It’ features some superb pneumatic drum work from Percy Bergeron, underscoring various sludgy noises while frontman Matt Conradi yelps like Mike Patton at his most abusive. Moving through sections of pure sludge into something that sounds like an atonal funeral march and, finally, something where slow, doomy riffs collide with feedback squalls and guitar sounds from a post-rock hell, Shadow People appear to make no secret of their love for Mr. Bungle’s disturbing masterpiece ‘Disco Volante’. Their decision to cut this so short at just over three minutes [other sludge fiends would milk such things for at least six] makes it seem like the ultimate guerilla-style musical assault.
The EP’s most accessible track – although in this case accessible is a purely relative concept – injects a little more speed and a few most unexpected melodies into the Shadow People band of sludge. ‘I Always Wanted To Be A Motivational Speaker’ starts off rather typically, though, with a slow and heavy dirge, setting up some extreme heaviness. This is contrasted by spiky alt-rock mixing sludge with an almost punky edge, as if someone in the band has recently overdosed on old Jesus Lizard records. The push and pull between the two moods suggests it could be the release’s best number…and then everything twists into something entirely new. The noise and fuzz subsides; a warm and clean bass grabs a massive melody that has been derived from a lighter influence and throws out a few bars that (almost by accident) borrow massive melodies from The Housemartins’ ‘The Light Is Always Green’ and Pixies’ ‘Hey’, before changing one final time to display a world of jagged guitars that could easily be inspired by Faith No More on one of their most obtuse days. With at least four major song ideas wedged into a little over three minutes, this is a thrilling roller coaster of noise. Yes, it’s also a massive mess…but almost guaranteed to entertain anyone with any noise rock interests.
In less than ten minutes, this band twists through at least seven different extreme rock/metal moods. It’s like having a crash course in the Amphetamine Reptile and CZ record labels injected into your brain simultaneously – Strange Days style – and while this could be a traumatic experience, much like the best Melvins and Jesus Lizard records, it’s also quite electrifying. Most people should approach with a degree of caution, but for fans of the most obtuse noise-rock/sludge metal hybrids, this EP will certainly be of massive interest.