It’s not often that albums like this come along. It’s even less often that I listen to them.
Sprain is a quartet from Los Angeles, previously known as a slowcore band. Now, with the three singles released as a foretaste of a new album, The Lamb As Effigy, Sprain have, one, generated immense buzz in the underground communities, and two, shown that they’re propelling that sound into broader, more dramatic territory, more post-rock, art-rock, noise, in short, more a little bit of everything.
So, here’s the full album, measuring 96 minutes in length, separated into eight songs, two of which clock in at 24 minutes. One separates the album at its center, and another closes it. Now, what’s in those 96 minutes?
Anguish. Fear. Paranoia. Chaos. Silence. Wall of sound. Screams. Chaos. Crying. Silence.
Despite the singer’s insistence that this album was not intended to be seen as grand, or monstrous, and that its sole purpose is to represent the “real thing”, I can’t help but see it as a bewildering, grandiose thing. And I’m not the only one. Sorry, Sprain guys, you’re too modest.
The guitars are parasitic, sounding as if they’re trying to strangle each other. The percussion is shaky one minute, unleashed the next. The bass lines stick to the rest like leeches. The many abscesses of din make me fear for the health of my headphones. And the voice and lyrics, for that of the singer, Alexander Kent.
I don’t know this man, I don’t know what he’s been through, so I won’t launch into a discourse glorifying suffering, something unfortunately all too common in art discourse circles. What I can say is that Mr. Kent’s writing is creepy, absurd and furiously chilling. Very, if not too effective in sharing his malaise (or, according to his logic, simply his “being”?) The declamation, for its part, is infernal, unpredictable, volcanic as much in the sense of stone as magma. In the last song, all the instruments disappear, and we’re left alone with the most raw vocal workmanship on his part, as he repeats a phrase that seems to break him a little more each time. He grunts, he cries, he pulls away from the mic, he tries to pull himself together… It’s as if we’re witnessing the effects of psychological torture.
It’s music perfect for nail biting, muscle tensing, frowning.
It’s horrible, tortured music that won’t let go of you for a second, and probably even longer.It’s a hawk that claws at your heart for nearly two hours.That said, my visceral reaction had nothing to do with it.No, because this music is brilliant, undeniable, and terribly heavy with existence. It’s a dying star in the sky.Blinding with energy.Terrifying.Incomprehensible.But also, in the context of the universe, completely banal. Perhaps that’s how we should see ourselves, through the eyes of this band.
An intense album, then, impressive on all fronts, rich in emotion, and memorable. One of this year’s most memorable, certainly.
The Lamb As Effigy is definitely not for everyone. But if you like Slint and Swans, give it a try – you won’t regret it.