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The Poison Arrows – No Known Note

File 13

The Poison Arrows - No Known NoteI must confess The Poison Arrows are a new one on me, but a great discovery because they ply the kind of slinky bass-heavy American post-hardcore that the likes of Girls vs Boys (GVSB) and The Jesus Lizard put out years ago. I love that kind of sound and am pleased to have received this, the band’s fourth and third on File 13. The label is based in Chicago and run by Justin Sinkovich (formerly of Atombombpocketknife), guitarist and singer from the band — and that may explain why this is only the band’s fourth LP since their inception in 2000 — but the album does have that immediate feel of grassroots love and desire.

I was excited to discover that former Don Caballero bassist Pat Morris is part of the band and the fact that they are a trio enables him to let loose with those kind of muscular, slippery rhythms for which he is well known. Justin used to play in Thumbnail, another favourite from the good old Chicago days, and all of this caused great anticipation for me. I am pleased to say that I was not disappointed and the eight tracks that form No Known Note move with a slight swagger, but have that warm, close feel that comes from a band that is perfectly in tune. Apparently it was mainly recorded live in the studio and any band that is brave enough to try that must have real confidence in the knowledge that each band member has of the others’ style.

For me, this is a timeless sound and perhaps one that is slightly out of favour at the moment, but with the strength of this album, maybe people’s memories will be refreshed as to what they are missing out on. I guess if you were ever a fan of the Touch & Go label then this would be right up your street. Opener “Augmented algorithm” opens with a muscular bass intro that is low and pure, the notes almost purr and are in the sort of register that totally sets them apart from Justin’s guitar noise, which is higher and fuzzier. Adam Reach‘s drums are propulsive yet subtle and tie everything together. As I mentioned, the fact that they are a trio allows a lot of space for Pat’s playing to really flow. Justin’s vocals have an insouciance that works really well and don’t overwhelm the sound, but compliment it.

The sound can really swagger at times and the slower, more sultry “No Known Note (Part II)” has a swing to it that is welcome and really suits the vocal delivery. Talking of vocals and to give you an idea of the kind of friends the band has, Scout McCloud from GVSB lends a hand on “Stuck On Screen”. Those familiar desultorily sexy vocals draw a parallel with GVSB obviously, but the band are lighter, there is a greater sense of space than the density of GVSB and it means Justin can concentrate on more guitar textures. Apparently, there were more keyboard elements on previous albums, but I don’t think their lack detracts from this album; if anything, it enables them to hone the trio sound to perfection.

The rhythm is hefty and deliberate on “Derailmentship”, with Justin’s sing-song, careless vocals lending a casual, nonchalant air that sits at odds with the high wailing guitar of Tony Lazzarra, riding high on the shoulders of that vibrant, resonant bass. The lyrics are a little more dystopian on “Wedding” — “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple; question is, where are all the people” — the spare and simple rhythm and the deep bass groove give space to the vocals and frame them beautifully until the song bursts open with a wave of energy like some dark, flowery explosion. Volume increases, intensity increases and as the band pummels its way into your consciousness, the metallic petals of sound reflect and retract. A squeal of feedback opens up the personal diatribe of “No Known Note (Part I)”, Justin’s vocal hops and skips across the instrumentation, which is raucous and a little unhinged, and that wavering freedom suits the rambling lyricism: “Why don’t you sell your stakes and shares?” — indeed.

The album ends with the spare, snapping sound of “The First, The Last And The First Thing You Need”, the snare is tight and the sound is sparse, allowing plenty of space for Justin’s slightly distorted vocals; the air here is slower and cooler, the band letting a breeze through to offset some of the turbulence and sweat of earlier tracks. It is a fine bowing out and leaves the listener content, but ready for more. There is enough variety on No Known Note to return to the LP on a regular basis and to discover fresh textures. I think I might have to delve into the back catalogue; but for now, I suggest you track this down.

-Mr Olivetti-

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