A split album is really like bringing some new folks to your friend’s party and hoping everyone gets along. Even though everyone might not be familiar with each other, you hope there’s enough common ground that by the end of the night the party turns into one big singalong. Coming in without having heard either band and digging them both was more like crashing that party and becoming BFFs with everyone!
Rong starts off this party at a frenetic pace with “Milton Friedman’s Big Dumb Dream”. The initial riff bludgeons you with sound and like any good bludgeon, it wakes you right up and grabs your attention. Like Primus or Jerome’s Dream, at times it seems more like they’re attacking their instruments in coordinated rhythm rather than playing a melody and they’re doing so with absolute precision. However with Rong, these are just sections of the songs and there is more fun to be had. Olivia, the vocalist, sings at such a fast cadence that the hurriedness adds to the tension and overall energy going on with every other instrument. Then, on a dime, they switch into a sing-songy hooks straight out of an ABBA song which has the ability to stick in your mind and draw you further into what they’re up to. Their vocal work is pretty representative of the Rong overall sound and I could say the same about each instrument in the band. They all seem to be on the same page even as they are working opposite sides of a balancing act with multiple facets of their music.
Where I think Rong really separates themselves from the pack is that they contrast this bludgeoning sound in unique ways. Just like in cooking, music can benefit from a good set of opposing flavors but a good counterpart is not just a sweet/sour relationship, but more an opposing force you wouldn’t necessarily think of first. Rong first hits you hard but then balances that aggression perfectly with these amazing grooves that pulls your ass further into the dance floor. The rhythm section of Dave and Adric are tight as hell and constantly bringing the hooks throughout but in sections the groove takes center stage and serve as a counterpoint to the noisier sections. It makes it feel less like a adversarial relationship and more like every part is an extension of everything else.
My hot track from their half of the split was “¯\_( ˘͡ ˘̯)_/¯ at the Dearth of Discourse ” in which the last 2/3rds of the song these relationships play out in a sequence of shifts back and forth from hard hitting to dance grooves organically and making total sense the whole time. It’s a beautiful thing to pull off.
Landowner starts their half of the album with a one-two-three- “ Floor” and in some ways brings the energy down and the intensity up. The instrumentation and overall sound is so much cleaner than you’d expect from a band playing this style of music but it balances it all. It calls to mind a lot of the early Chicago Math Rock / Noise Rock bands like Dianogah or Shellac because of that all that cleanliness in tone leaves little room for error or faking it. Their tightness as musicians lets them shine in that environment.
The songs are relatively short in the best ways. They describe themselves as “minimalist punk” and I think it’s an apt description of the sound they’re working with. Not just in the way that removing the distortion of the instruments makes it all feel more like it’s getting down to the basics, but in their writing they create a basic syncopated relationship between the instruments and then repeat it with reckless abandon to drive it home over the course of a few minutes. The detail and patterning are both very on point and it is a great example of writing using complexity rather than being complicated.
I really enjoyed the fact that Landowner’s 4 songs on this split felt like they grew in frustration as they kept progressing until a criscendo on “Urban Rural Divide” and then bringing it back down a little bit on “Find Out Why”. The four songs had a very nicely planned out flow to them. Lyrically, Dan Shaw sings about everyday things that seem to worry or bother him and this flow makes it seem that life is bothering him more and more as the record continues. The day-to-dayness of it makes it relatable and also fun. I mean, I’m expecting my favorite track “Urban Rural Divide” to be playing out on my turkey day so I’m going to go ahead and use it as a soundtrack.
AND THEN playing the
Dorchester Art Project on 11/27 with Bad History Month, Birthday Ass and Fred Cracklin
Landowner has no upcoming shows listed but stay abreast of it on their facebook page for when they do: