February 02, 2006

Valina "epode"

There are certain labels that fill a specific niche like no other, churning out record after record of the same sound until they end up on the wrong side of the divide between predictability and boredom. The sophisticated soul of 1960s Motown and the grunge of 1990s Sub Pop are but two of the biggest examples. It seems as if the 54'40" or Fight! label is shooting for that kind of brand equity, albeit on a much smaller scale. You already know what you’re going to get when you buy any of their releases: another infinitesimal variation on the math-rock template that bands all around the Midwest and the East Coast helped create during the last two decades. You’re going to hear the kind of music that makes critics use adjectives such as “angular” and “dissonant,” and namedrop any of the five trillion bands that Steve Albini has ever recorded. Let’s not damn the critics too harshly, though. If it’s a 54'40" or Fight! release, chances are that the music contained therein will be angular and dissonant, and the words “recorded by Steve Albini” will appear somewhere in the liner notes.

Austrian two Valina fits the bill to a T, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have new tricks up their sleeves. The first two tracks on their latest EP Epode sound like lost Mission of Burma songs. Anatol
Bogendorfer sings in a voice that’s surprisingly calm when placed in contrast to the band’s aggressive playing. While he plucks out busy arpeggios on his guitar, drummer Claus Harringer plays like a more hyperactive version of MoB’s Peter Prescott. He always sounds like he’s about to lose the beat, but he never does...at least not on these two songs. “Envy” is the moodier of these two songs. Bogendorfer’s guitar is de-tuned to woozy effect, and Harringer plays spastic drum fills at all the “wrong” moments.

Things start getting weird at the EP’s halfway point. “81 Men Without
History” is an acoustic ballad with weepy strings, and ends with an out-of-nowhere cacophony of backwards drumming. “Escort of Soda” begins with a verse sung entirely a capella, only to turn into a saxophone-driven skronk-fest, the likes of which I haven’t heard since...well, the last Kash record that 54'40" or Fight! released. It is worth noting that this is the only song on the EP in which Harringer’s drumming falls flat. The final song, appropriately titled “The Epilogue,” is nothing more than bassist Florian Huber shredding classical-style on his upright for three minutes.

Epode is definitely of a piece with the rest of the 54'40" or
Fight! catalog, but Valina’s baroque ambitions set them slightly apart from the pack. This EP boasts a surprising amount of variety, and I look forward to seeing how the trio can reconcile the disparate elements of its sound over the course of a full album.

—Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.trost.at/valina
Label Website: http://www.fiftyfourfortyorfight.com

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