The first song on Six, the first album from the Connecticut band Empty Flowers, begins with a rising, chiming drone: Single-chord guitars wrapping themselves slowly around a metronomic drum beat, intensity gradually rising, no words beyond a few barely-audible mumbles buried deep in the track. And then, two and a half minutes in, there’s a split second of silence, and the track roars back in with the first clearly audible word of the album. That word is “FUUUUUCK.” It’s a real fists-up moment and an apt introduction for a band who already knows how to mix deep trance-drone repetition with serious kickass rock fury. It’s a cathartic thrown elbow of an LP, but one that keeps twisting and contorting, never content to find the simplest and most traditional route toward detaching your retina.
In some ways, it’s not really much of a surprise that the band is already in a zone like this. Two members come from the long-running Connecticut metalcore band Cable, and all of them look like they’ve been to a few rodeos before. But then again, it’s sort of a suprise, to me at least. I’ve never really checked for Cable before, an oversight I’ll have to correct now. And Six brings up all sorts of vague connections to a time when bands were expected to rock hard and smart, not to pick one of the two and run with it. In the way the band interlocks its splintered guitar-shards into heavy grooves, they recall Slint, or Polvo, or even Unwound. And in the way that frontman Christian McKenna floats his strained, piercing, mythic yelp over the band’s patient thud, I can’t help but compare them to Lungfish, a parallel I don’t mention lightly.
Lungfish were one of my favorite bands ever, and they worked partly because they seemed so context-free, so removed from time and space and scenes and politics. I used to see crazy-eyed Lungfish prophet Dan Higgs around Baltimore and find myself rooted to the spot, unable to say anything to him, mostly since he seemed more like an elder god than a fellow Whole Foods shopper. (Eventually I got over it and had a conversation or two with him, and he turns out to be a very pleasant human being. But still.) McKenna doesn’t come off like that; he comes off like an actual human dude who happens to be very good at making atmospheric post-hardcore. His lyrics aren’t gnostic koans, for the most part; they’re simple and relatable sentiments. “Never trust the police, the police,” he wails at one point. At another: “I suggest you call a priest to exorcise these demons in me.” (Turns out that he drinks too much and stays out late most nights, that he loses battles but wins most fights.) And where Lungfish would push a single burning riff to the point where it became a part of your soul, Empty Flowers let their songs slowly wander, turning from one groove to another so slowly and assuredly that you barely notice. Still, they land in the same deep head-nod territory, and hearing a band so good at that sound gives the rare sensation of scratching an itch I didn’t know I had.
Six is the work of four musicians who are locked into each other in that rare telepathic way, where each understands which hole in the song he needs to fill. The drums never even come in on “Call A Priest,” and they don’t need to, since everyone else in the band plays guitar and bass like rhythm instruments. In fact, rhythm and melody seem so wound up with each other on this album that it’s hard to say where one ends and the other begins. The tangles of guitar have heft, the floor-tom rumbles push things forward intuitively, the long songs feel short. A couple of times, choral female backing vocals come in, but they’re not stunt-casting; they just add floating dread where it’s needed. The seven songs end in just over half an hour, but this is still the work of a band who knows how to take its time, to build something.
Six is out now on Translation Loss.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Dum Dum Girls’ excellent mellowed-out garage-pop EP End Of Daze.
• Longtime indie rock sideman Chris Cohen’s assured psych-pop solo debut Overgrown Path.
• Hundred Waters’ hauntingly off-kilter self-titled debut.
• Frightened Rabbit’s raucously emotive State Hospital EP.
• Lavender Diamond’s orch-pop comeback Incorruptible Heart.
• No Doubt’s grand commercial return Push And Shove.
• Melody’s Echo Chamber’s Stereolab-engineered self-titled haze-pop debut.
• Former Songs: Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co. frontman Jason Molina’s rootsy, depressive solo turn Autumn Bird Songs.
• Winterfylleth’s expansive black metal LP The Threnody Of Triumph.
• The Soft Pack’s sophomore effort Strapped.
• Lightning Bolt’s rarities collection Oblivion Hunter.
• Green Day’s ¡Uno!, the first album in a planned blockbuster-punk trilogy.
• Mumford & Sons’ probably-better-than-you-think Babel.
• Lupe Fiasco’s probably-worse-than-you-think Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1.