Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Review of Hysterics by Rolo Tomassi

Here's an unpublished review for Rolo Tomassi's Hysterics album released in September 2008. I wrote this about a year ago but it never got used.

"I've seen Rolo Tomassi twice in their, and my hometown of Sheffield, UK, both times supporting HORSE the band on one of their wild gallops across the world. Maybe the fact that both bands have synth players landed Rolo Tomassi the support slot in the first place, but after witnessing them the first time around HORSE will have made sure to book Rolo Tomassi again - this band have an amazing live show. When you first see cute female vocalist Eva Spence tiptoe onto the stage you're not at all ready for the explosive screams and sounds that soon burst forth. At first you'll be shocked, then you'll be drawn in, as Rolo Tomassi tear through a set of dynamically diverse and unpredictable pieces, some long, some short, but entertaining throughout.

I once heard an interviewer describe this band as "Too metal for the indie kids, but too indie for the metal kids", and that's as good an indicator as any of where this band's sound lies. Part abrasive screaming, part complex and experimental, part Nintendo-styled synth, Rolo Tomassi have their own way of playing music. Thus the band have created quite a stir, at least in the UK scene, not at all hindered by the novelty of having a female vocalist who looks like someone out of a shampoo advert.

So their debut album, Hysterics begins with "Oh, Hello Ghost", a great first track, opening the album with an ominous electronic intro, then catching you off-guard, lunging early into a fierce and precise riff section, the band suddenly jolting into life. Things segue into tracks two and three, the band really starting to hit their stride as they lead into "Abraxas", the closest thing you'll find to a single on the album.

Next we hit the middle section of Hysterics, where Rolo Tomassi continue to mash up moods and styles you wouldn't necessarily put together, showing that that first few tracks weren't just some horrible production job gone wrong. By this point you'll have learned not to try and anticipate what's coming next, just accept and enjoy.

Aside from some of the synth sections and accompanying effects, Hysterics is a fairly simple sounding recording for the most part, the band themselves creating a great dynamic between quiet and loud throughout the album. Also, each member of Rolo Tomassi has their own distinct voice here, everyone showing some musicianship without sacrificing coherence.

However, while at points the album soars with big, repeating slabs of guitar and spiralling synth lines such as those in "Abraxas" and "Scabs", at other times things become slightly slow and unmemorable. Yes, while these sections are probably needed to contrast with and emphasise the more aggressive parts of this album, it's sometimes easy to lose interest, so Hysterics definitely loses a bit of steam towards the end, with a whole track of rather mundane noise in "Everything Went Grey". But we finish up with "Fantasia", which clocks in at over 14 minutes and showcases everything the band are good at. In some ways it feels like the whole album is building up to this final showpiece, which ends with a giant trademark Rolo Tomassi progression and wraps things up nicely.

All in all, Rolo Tomassi have managed to produce a very good first album which belies their youth, although the album does fall slightly flat in some parts, where things slow down just a bit too much, or where the jazzy experimentation starts to get a bit boring. I feel the band are best when spitting out sharp bursts of noise or throwing up massive, swirling riffs which you never really want to end. But it's hard to sustain such energy over the course of a entire album. Or maybe the interviewer's quote which I mentioned earlier is true, and the band are stretching themselves too far across a massive gap in the musical spectrum. But then again, that's what makes this band interesting, and will probably propel them to greater success and recognition in the future. Hysterics is highly original and does shine very brightly at times and is worth checking out if you like music that messes with your head a little bit."

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