Brokespeak by StrobesRelease date: November 4, 2016
Label: Blood And Biscuits
Given that the members of Strobes all share an interest in frenzied polyrhythmic interplay (Squarepusher collaborator Dan Nicholls, Troyka drummer Joshua Blackmore, Matt Calvert from Three Trapped Tigers), one might have expected Brokespeak to be an illustrious, overly gushy love letter to the virtuosic pinnacle of progressive jazz and math rock. Thankfully, the trio have opted for something more subtle and strange.
While it’s true that much of the record is impressive for its complexity and the trio’s unwavering commitment to keeping everything in position – collisions of twitching funk guitar and Rhodes in erratic arpeggio, kept in check by beats that always seem to verge on abandoning their post to join the fray – the album doesn’t always feel strictly like the product of human endeavour. In fact, Brokespeak is full of moments that flicker between the product of a rock band and the warm, stodgy shapes of modern electronic music; for example, the point at which the stuttering funk of ‘OK Please’ rises off the ground to become an ethereal techno club interlude, or when ‘Winder’ and ‘Guns, Germs And Steel’ stutter to their conclusions after being ravaged by digital glitch (the former falling flat on its face after a brief spurt of malfunctioning dubstep, the latter coughing up drum samples until it passes out). These frantic, physically exhaustive pieces are always on the edge of being reduced to cold, computerised fact.
The band’s sense of melody can also be difficult to read. ‘Brkspk’ takes angular turns that cause the tonality to double-back on itself, arranging the chords into skewed triangles that feel trapped in a state of non-conclusion, while ‘Spin’ taps into the frantic arpeggiating harmonies of Philip Glass to generate a dizzying spiral of synthesisers, like a crossroads at the busiest point of the information superhighway. And while the latter sheds that essential tension between the human and non-human – losing the organic energy to relentless, windmilling pulsations of rave electronics – the rest of the record maintains its chicane between the emotionally immediate and bursts of misdirection.
The conclusion to ‘World GB’ is particularly apocalyptic in its lurches of minor key, with processed guitar rising and falling over a drumbeat that falters under the weight. The mood appears to have lifted in the album’s closing stages as the infectious syncopations of ‘Kiksin’ buoy all three members into sparkling instrumental solos, but the album’s ultimate conclusion is abrupt and unkind. The riff falters and stops halfway through. A mistake, perhaps? Or has someone just pulled the power cables out of Strobes’ backs? The listener doesn’t know. The listener will never know, because every ounce of Brokespeak has been crafted to mess with you.