Grinding, confrontational, ambling, potentially scary: just a few of many words which could describe ‘Giftes 1&2’, the curiously titled debut album from UK art/alt-rockers Antlered Man. There’s no point pussyfooting around here – since Antlered Man rarely do – it’s a bloody difficult record in lots of places.
‘Outrages 1 ta 3’ starts easily enough, as a fairly clean guitar lays down a mid-paced riff, under which a pleasingly upfront bass takes most of the tune’s overall weight. Once the drums and keys are pushed into the mix, everything takes on a slightly eastern vibe; there’s an odd coldness at the heart of the band’s sound, reinforced by a slightly unemotional vocal. The main thrust of the tune disappears after three minutes or so, at which point would have been a good time to move onto something new – but Antlered Man launch into a two minute coda, which if anything could be more appealing than the main tune itself. Oliver Parker’s drums crash and move things towards a thrashier sound, while Sam Ray’s bass continues to wander down a similarly aggressive path as before. If anything at all is holding this together, those basslines are absolutely essential.
Although ‘Outrages…’ has its hard-going and wilful moments, it’s fairly straight ahead and easy listening compared to ‘If You Can’t Beat Them, Try Solvents!’ where the band opts for a mechanical grind and tops it with distorted and cold keyboard sounds for good measure. The end result sounds like Wire jamming on the Killing Joke debut, produced by Steve Albini with Mike Patton’s sense of the unsettling. The electronic noises are so loud in the end mix, they drown out some of the vocal, and even a few drums and guitars in other places: bend your ears around the cacophony though, and Ray’s bass can still be heard laying down some interesting patterns.
Following a deliberately oddball intro comprising a high pitched bass riff and equally suitable vocal, at first ‘Platoono of Uno’ steps into another world of angular grinding. Midway, however, the band steps up a gear, changing the mood almost entirely. The best part of this number showcases Antlered Man in the guise of a full-pelt, alternative rock/punk hybrid, creating music mot unlike Jello Biafra’s outings with (the) Melvins. Over these fast sections, the vocal takes on a manic stance and the lyrics an air of confrontation. Such a high speed approach suits the band very well indeed – especially Damo Holmes’ vocals. An album highlight, ‘Surrounded By White Men’ is a colossal slab of distorted alt-rock, driven by a superbly fuzzy bass and insistent drum line (which at first, sounds like it could break into XTC’s ‘Making Plans For Nigel’ at any second!). While the drums vie for listener’s attention throughout, the ringing guitars stand out, as does another slightly tension-filled vocal. This is the sound of a band whom would have been label mates with The Jesus Lizard or Girls Against Boys back in ’94…
‘Misruly Roo’ takes a bassline that has the presence of Jean-Jacques Burnel’s early (great) work and then fuzzes that up for maximum effect. The drums and guitars flesh out a spiky rhythm – effectively creating one of the album’s most endearing musical structures, over which the vocal is surprisingly sedate. Taking most of the best elements of Antlered Man, it presents another of the album’s best tracks. Although they never stretch far beyond the intro’s musical blueprint, the track never drags – even when stretched out for over seven minutes. It comes as no surprise that huge chunks of ‘Balloons, Needles, Sunlight and Evil’ come drenched in downtune and distortion – almost to stoner rock levels in places – but intercut with the general dirginess, there are a few musical flourishes which stand out. As before, Oliver Parker’s drumming has a strong presence, while on the quietest parts, Danny Fury’s guitar lines hark back to alternative rock’s mid-90s glory days for maximum retro cool.
While not always big on direction, ‘Giftes 1&2’ offers the listener a whole world of edgy tunes, delivered with amps cranked for fair amounts of intensity. However, it doesn’t quite match the all round greatness of ‘Constellation’ by Seattle noise merchants Mutiny Mutiny (a hard act to follow in this field), despite Antlered Man’s best efforts. But, since this is a band with some great ideas and enough of their own flair to build on such promise, for fans of grinding alt-rock, this album should definitely strike a chord (metaphorically speaking) at least on a few tracks.