Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Crooked Necks - "Alright Is Exactly What It Isn't" (2011) [Handmade Birds Records]
For a little background, I've been a fan of the various incarnations of Crooked Necks since 2007, back when they went by the name Frail. Their Brilliant Darkness demo, which is also getting the remaster-and-re-release treatment from Handmade Birds, absolutely floored me, who had only otherwise heard this style of music from bands like Amesoeurs. Of course, like many fantastic bands before them, I didn't hear anything more from them for a few years. From my understanding, they released a super-limited cassette of Joy Division covers (protip: Something Must Break is also set to be released from Handmade Birds as well, joy!), but it never received any real attention or the standard "rip the cassette and post to blogs" that the previous release and the band remained silent...until last year. After the announcement of their name change to Crooked Necks, from their song "Crooked Necks and Uneven Strides," they released an impressive split with none other than Circle of Ouroborus, one of my favorites, and now, after years of anticipation, Handmade Birds brings us this trio's first full-length recording, aptly titled Alright Is Exactly What It Isn't.
In a sea of bands who try to sound like the "next big thing," Crooked Necks truly sets themselves apart with Alright. For one thing, though this description is found throughout the subgenre, it is absolutely gorgeous. The subtle, bittersweet textures built by wayward, meandering guitars bring about mental pictures of fading memories of road trips with friends, sunsets with loved ones, happy times that one might look upon when one is sad. The fragility of quiet, clean guitars, smooth bass and subdued drums beneath shrieking voices (quite the striking contrast) brings to mind that something is definitely wrong, because, after all Alright Is Exactly What It Isn't. The subdued, repressed emotion found throughout the album can be represented by a man on the brink, covering up his rage and self-hatred with a facade but slowly teetering towards the inevitable emotional breakdown. When "Every Step Feels Backwards," he will ultimately break and he very well knows it, but will try his hardest to retain his composure; an empathetic exercise in daily life.
It is rather difficult to call Crooked Necks a "black metal" band at this point, in fact they're far from it. The swirling psychedelia is reminiscent moreso of bands like Hammock or Disintegration-era The Cure than bands like Alcest or Lantlos, who still retain black metal's dynamic qualities that normally overshadow the subtleties found within post-rock or shoegaze. In the end I might end up calling this a "blackened post-punk/slowcore" album, as stupid as that sounds, but I find this acting as a mirror opposite to what the rest of the "post-black metal" scene is doing - using gloomy, ethereal post-punk as a base and drawing slight influence, in this case the shrieking melodrama of the vocals, from black metal. It is definitely interesting to hear this sort of attempt from the other side and I feel, at a point in time where the alternative has been done to death in such a short period of time, that an album such as this is necessary to "liven" the genre up a bit. Don't approach Alright Is Exactly What It Isn't as if it was a black metal album, that wouldn't do it justice. Just approach it for what it is: beautiful.
If you're up for it, preorder this brilliant album from the Handmade Birds store, where you can either get the LP by itself or, if you're feeling generous, you can buy it along with the Something Must Break LP I mentioned above and the Hostage Pageant cassette, a side project of one of the guys in Crooked Necks.