In a scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the politician Polonius tries to make a compelling, albeit hyperbolic case for Hamlet’s insanity in front of the Queen. The Queen says to Polonius “more matter, with less art”, which can be interpreted as a Shakespearean way of saying “more substance, less bullshit”. Lifting their name from this particular scene, California’s Less Art wears this “all killer, no filler” mentality with pride.
Less Art is an alliance between members of Thrice, Kowloon Walled City and Curl Up and Die, who use the decades of experience accumulated between them to craft a unique musical vision. Enter Strangled Light; a thrilling and driving debut that shows post-hardcore in a new light.
In a sense, Strangled Light takes the sound first explored by the likes of Drive Like Jehu, Unwound and Slint, and modernizes it. The result is an angular, highly complex brand of post-hardcore that’s full of grit, groove, and tension and release. Each member utilizes the skills they’ve acquired in their respective musical backgrounds to bring this enthralling sound to life.
Drummer Riley Breckenridge (Thrice) and bassist Ian Miller (Kowloon Walled City) make up the band’s throttling rhythm section. Breckenridge’s intricate drumming quickly switches from simplistic patterns to more complex rhythms with ease, while Miller’s massive bass lines is responsible for the record’s seismic low end and penchant for groove. Guitarists Eddie Breckenridge (Thrice) and Jonathan Howell (Kowloon Walled City, ex-Tigon) weave together their menageries of serpentine guitar riffs that equally deal in melody and dissonance. Frontman Mike Minnick (Curl Up and Die) is at the heart of it all, delivering his scathing, often introspective prose with clarity and vitriol.
The nearly 40-minute record kicks off with the storming “Optimism as Survival”. The track stampedes forth with metallic, propulsive chord progressions that are peppered with melodic flourishes, before bleeding into icy, reflective choruses and trudging, sludgy bridges. Minnick spearheads the track with his demanding vocal presence, which ranges from direct, spoken word delivery and throat-searing yells. This tune paves the way for the rest of the record, and is immediately followed by the vicious one-two punch of “Diana the Huntress” and “Mood 7 Mind Destroyer: Guilt”.
“Diana the Huntress” explodes forth with three minutes of well-structured chaos. Aberrated post-hardcore riffs twist, churn and bludgeon with high octane intensity, while Minnick and guest vocalist Meghan O’Neill-Pennie (Super Unison, ex-Punch) trade scathing vocal blows on this destructive sonic maelstrom. “Mood 7 Mind Destroyer: Guilt” starts off in a similar way with a plethora of angular riffs and monstrous groove before ending in a melodic, yet bellowing lurch.
Other tracks like “Wandering Ghost” and “Shapeshifter” scale back the speed in favor of more sprawling, moodier approaches. These tracks churn out slow-burning instrumentation comprised of steady, melodic fervor and towering, sludgy crawls. These slower cuts could be likened to sister band Kowloon Walled City if they decided to cover Slint‘s Spiderland. Then there are songs like the tumultuous title track, which attempts to combine all of the album’s elements into one. “Strangled Light” effectively closes out the record with a seamless blend of all the hits; the shimmering melodies, the chaotic riffage and the seismic sludge.
Less Art‘s interesting take on the post-hardcore style faithfully nods to the progenitors of the genre, while simultaneously bringing it to the modern era. Strangled Light is a highly intricate and captivating listen brought to life by stellar musicianship and potent lyricism. It’s equally heavy and thought-provoking, crushing and reflective. Strangled Light will hopefully be the start of a long line of solid releases from Less Art.
Release Date: July 28
Label: Gilead Media
Favorite Tracks: “Optimism as Survival”, “Diana the Huntress”, “Pessimism as Denial” and “Strangled Light”
For Fans of: Drive Like Jehu, Unwound and Carved Up