If you were to look back through the reviews that I’ve written on here over the years, one of the things you may notice is that there are not that many bands who I come back to more than once or twice. One of the reasons for this is because I like to get round as many acts as possible, but it’s also because I tend to find it difficult to write about bands too often. However it’s perhaps not difficult to see where the repeat visits lie from the ‘band cloud’ that I have to the sidebar of the website, and no one seems to appear in a bigger font than The Band Whose Name Is A Symbol (TBWNIAS); the Canadian collective based around Birdman Sound Records in Ottawa.
The reason for my repeat visits to the scene of the TBWNIAS crimes lies in the fact that everything that they put out has a real spontaneity to it that makes their music both refreshing and vibrant. There’s always a new angle here, because the music has so many different aspects to it… and there’s usually a story behind it too.
Birdman is run by TBWNIAS drummer John Westhaver who gave me a bit of insight into the process of making ‘Droneverdose’, the most startling of which is that this album is the result of just five hours recording time. Yes the band have been working these tracks up, since mid-2016 in some cases, but the actual sounds that you are getting through your needle are, for the most part, spontaneous and free of overdubs.
Looking more closely, the opener ‘Earworm’ is a just that launching the album into your ears with a real 70s rock feel. There’s a certain sleaziness about the track with its organ and understated guitar, which most bands would put higher in the mix… here the band have a greater confidence to let the whole unit take the number along. As it progresses ‘Earworm’ speeds up giving you the sense of being dropped nicely into the album’s vibe… which for me is a sort of laid back urgency. If that doesn’t make sense have a listen, hopefully that’s answer it.
A second relatively short track, ‘Snoreland’, follows. This is much heavier than it’s predecessor with some really deep guitar and bass really leading the way, underpinned by some pounding drums. ‘Snoreland’ quickly gets in your head, and especially like the constant change of pace, which is much less showy than the sort of quick/ slow pace that a lot of bands kick out. According to Westhaver both these first two tracks “started from as usual improvisation and then morped in our fashion into ‘short pieces'” and you can see very much how that process could happen here.
Next up is the first of two long tracks on ‘Droneverdose’, both of which were according to Westhaver “totally improved in the studio that day and both are one takes…no overdubs whatsoever”. We’ll come to ‘Tsunami of Bullshit’ in a bit but here ‘Gaussian Blur and Beach Debris’ is a brilliant jam which really develops well over the ten minutes it bleeds its way into your consciousness. There is such a tightness here, a real feeling of musicians working off each other, every so often you can hear one of them move off into the next phase… there’s a lot of trust here and it just seems to pay off in spades. There’s also little preciousness around genre. I think I’ve probably written before that TBWNIAS work for me because they are collectively and separately so deeply embedded in the music they play that it matters less about where something comes from, but how it sounds. This, for me, leads to a freedom of expression that just allows the band to be.
Things take a very different turn with ‘118’. There’s immediately more experimental feel to this track, the only one that does have overdubs. It is inspired by an article that was in the local news in Ottawa back in 2016 in which a bus driver confronted a man who was harassing a Muslim woman on the bus he was driving. Westhaver takes up the story:
…the only overdub on the album is ex-TBWNIAS bandmate Hesham Attaya, an Arabic piece which we recorded at Birdman Sound just prior to xmas 2016 and dumped in on 118…I asked Hesham to come up with lyrics to describe the degradation from a woman’s viewpoint with what happened to the woman on the bus from the story.
This gives the track a really interesting atmosphere which goes from some trademark heavy streetwise riffs to a cool section which has a real Arabic feel to it. Knowing the story behind it also helps to appreciate more how these tracks are not just inprovs that are just knocked off in a rehearsal space, but come from somewhere deeper.
Last up on ‘Droneverdose’ is the aforementioned ‘Tsunami of Bullshit’. This follows on well from ‘118’, with it’s atmospheric start that builds up a sense of both menace and foreboding. Just over three minutes in the drums kick things up a notch and the band drop into a really satisfying groove. As I mentioned earlier in this review the band are less bothered by the ‘where’ of influences than how they actually sound. Here is a case in point where the music is somehow recognisable but it really is so damn good that you’re not really bothered about its provenance… just sit back and feel it! So it is with ‘Tsunami of Bullshit’… in fact I’m going to shut up here and just let the whole thing drift into me… man that’s good.
All in all this is yet another great release from TBWNIAS, right down to the cover from Dead Sea Apes’ (DSA) Brett Savage who Westhaver asked to do the artwork “cuz I like what he does and also wanted to bring other people into “the TBWNIAS” family so to say….both ‘Masters of the Molehill’ and ‘Pathfinder’ covers were outsourced based on peeps that dug TBWNIAS and were artistically inclined”. The DSA connection is further strengthened by Chris Hardman, who mastered the album, and one of the things I really like about ‘Droneverdose’ is the clean ‘punchiness’ of the sound… yes it’s got lots of fuzz, but all the instruments are given space within the melee of the tracks here.
There I managed to write about this unique band again… and that’s really down to them!
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