Chicago locals An Aesthetic Anaesthetic have spent the last few years exploring various styles of mostly instrumental music. The majority of their music has ties to Chicago post-rock styles, from cheery Kinsella-inspired pieces to heavy dirge in the vein of Pelican. They’ve always been fairly tight, but they’ve never been particularly exciting. Enter NAMES.
Earlier this year, Anaesthetic launched a successful Kickstarter for their second full-length NAMES, announcing that the band would be recording with renowned Chicago metal producer Sanford Parker (Bloodiest, Nachtmystium, Pelican). That caught my attention, but my excitement increased when Anaesthetic announced they would provide direct support for experimental rock trio Battles at Bottom Lounge back in June. Battles guitarist Ian Williams' previous band Don Caballero echoes An Aesthetic Anaesthetic's early work, but I didn't quite see the connection between Anaesthetic’s post-rock amalgamation and Battles' futuristic tweak-outs until I saw the show, where they performed two songs from NAMES that carried plenty of energy and color to justify their support.
When I first received the album, I was blown away. It wasn't just Sanford Parker's clean production; the songs and the band themselves were very strong. Part of my procrastination in writing this review (the album was released in August) was wrapping my head around the suddenly amazing work these guys have created. The song titles are certainly bold and memorable, too, in an overly silly way; each song is the mutilated name of a male celebrity. I would call it a cop out if it wasn’t a stylistic move directly in line with the tradition of instrumental bands attaching arcane and arbitrary titles to their songs.
"Billy Rape Cyrus," the first of two sex/country music puns, opens the record with three ringing harmonics from a guitar, a kind of battle call that signals the rest of the band to roll through a heavy, grooving riff. For the first minute or so, the harmonics punctuate every phrase—each phrase becoming more rhythmic and taut—until the tension gets temporarily (and mercifully) relieved in a brief drone. A forward-moving guitar melody enters, quickly put into place by lurching rhythms. Soaring major key melodies collapse into a whirlpool of guitars propelled by drummer William Covert's steady current until the whole band eventually flows together in a colorful groove. A brief jolt results in a quick, sunshiny ending.
"Girth Brooks" starts off friendly, but quickly trades in friendliness for a hypnotic guitar melody, then falls back into the former without a snag. The last bit of "Brooks" is the first moment for some deep breaths on the album, with relaxed atmospheric guitars and a loose drum beat.
Anaesthetic returns refreshed on "Arkensenio Hall," where the band continues to experiment with odd meters. The bass and guitars unexpectedly become syncopated, culminating in a silly, demented, circus freak-out that resolves into a gentler melody near the end. While “Hall” is the least remarkable song on side one of NAMES, it’s an effective conclusion to NAMES’ instrumental portion.
If you're listening digitally, the album immediately continues with "Randy Quaidludes." While that works just fine, the time it takes to flip the record proves a nice reset for the upcoming 18-minute saga. The riffs in "Quaidludes" aren’t quite as catchy as the ones that populate the rest of the album, but they do carry the lyrics and provide appropriate interludes amid the band’s sonic exploration. Throughout, Dylan O'Toole of Chicago’s extreme doom band Indian trades verses with Anaesthetic guitarist Joshua Corriveau. O'Toole claims the first verse, snarling through distortion like a pissed-off badger. Corriveau delivers his poetic lyrics with a dry, crackling scream.
Over the course of NAMES’ first three songs, Anaesthetic eschews most direct ties to their past work and locality, instead exploring a new brand of upbeat, heavy instrumental music parallel to the Irish quartet And So I Watch You From Afar. “Randy Quaidludes” is a different kind of step away from their past, and both directions represent great possibilities for the band.
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