by Anand Harsh
Patiently, critics from the outer edges of electronic, singer-songwriter, and indie rock genres have been awaiting the debut full-length release from Chicago’s Loyal Divide. Conceived and composed by the band’s guitarist/vocalist Adam Johnson in between commutes from Columbus to his band mates in Chicago on the Megabus, Bodice Ripper is darker than night. The pitch-blackness of the album comes not from angsty teen melodrama, nor from lovelorn heartsickness. The disturbing and often gut wrenching sadness is born out of beauty and suspense. David Lynch needs to look no further when scoring his next film. Delicate and precise, and more than ready for its well-deserved praise, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ripper (pressed and distributed by Chi-label Kilo Records) sparks some buzz across several scenes.
The album opener, “Young Blades,” sounds like it was recorded on-site at a dusty, poorly-lit weapons manufacturing plant. Giant hydraulic presses slam plates of steel together, and molten metals pour and spark. Cartridges click into place in the handguns of the oppressive slave drivers. Sirens whirl and whistle in the distance. Loyal Divide’s command of tension and dynamics belies the group’s relative youth and inexperience.
“Blades” gives way to the record’s first single, the evocative and nightmarish “Vision Vision.” A single, spare (oddly funky) bass line is the only tether keeping the very airy synth from floating away. The notes whir and gurgle, as if they were being emitted by a top spinning delicately inside a pair of speakers. Johnson’s hushed vocals echo and hang in the air—on this track, and throughout the album—never breaking a whisper, but packing all the power of an atomic hand grenade. When the beauty and melancholy are ripped asunder by devastating, hateful screams, the track doesn’t descend into chaos, it merely bubbles alongside—tenderly and tragically.
Captivating, at the very least, “Vision Vision” has garnered play on MTV Iggy, and created a bit of a buzz in the blogosphere. The album’s release should reinvigorate interest; undoubtedly, the exquisitely crafted textures demand more attention than they may ever receive. For a truly haunting vision, view BBGun’s visual translation.
The rest of the album challenges the ability to draw comparisons. A song like “Perv Fury” sounds like Sonic Youth took a crack at Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” in an abandoned aboveground pool. Interstitial tracks like “Vein Harvester” and “Faucet” move the listener from one emotional state to another; often with beautiful vocalizations, but always chock full of moody introspection.
By the middle of the album, Johnson is playing with influences. “DDF” begins with a Billy Idol circa “White Wedding” beat, but mysteriously disintegrates into 90’s Goa Trance, replete with glitch Eastern vocals. Patiently, the track builds, never quite climaxing. Warbling and distorted sax sounds fill all spaces in the track, but the tension becomes palpable. “Labrador” is equally pulsing and tense, but the track breaks down to reveal another spare bass groove. The entirety of Bodice Ripper appears to be some exercise in simultaneous maximalism and minimalism.
The band’s Chicago roots are acknowledged with the Tortoise-influenced “Baladron.” This percussive track is a driving number, culminating in dreary guitar moans, drenched in reverb and distortion. The supreme splendor of the track’s multivariate melodies poke their way out from under dissonant groans and Johnson’s disjointed pleas. Hurtling towards its denouement, the track again vanishes in static.
“New Years” follows the same pattern, a careening beat that sputters to a close, revealing a ghostly rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” from ancient church bells. “Otto” features equally ethereal vocals—only this time, from a female—with a stuttering breakbeat and synths joining well into the track. Closing with the lilting, guitar-and-vocal-driven “Lover I Can Tell You,” that aching tenderness is back in full force.
Part post-rock masterpiece, part downtempo wizardry, the only problem I foresee with Loyal Divide’s debut effort is which circle of influence will claim the band. The album is certainly not a dance record, nor is it an easy pill to swallow. Brooding and mysterious, Bodice Ripper will have to be digested solo. Expect comparisons to Sigur Ros, perhaps even the latest release from—dare I say it: Radiohead. It’s complex, it’s a challenge, and it’s brilliant. Who’s to say anyone will like it at all?
Loyal Divide - Vision Vision
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