Tedious and lusterless tunes intended to be self-destructive
No, not the host and co-executive producer of the talk radio show Fresh Air. Is it a joke? An homage? Who knows. What is known however, is that Terry Gross (the band) is another identity of the SF post-rock trio Trans Am. The older ego of the group self-acclaims that they “break down established modes of songwriting.” If that’s so, then Terry Gross must be the project reserved for the breakdown of (not just any established modes of music, but) music itself. Their newest LP, the orifice-philic titled, Soft Opening, sounds like it may have come out of one.
The third-of-an-hour opener, “Space Voyage Mission,” covets half the album’s total runtime. Starting with a three-minute intro of aimless power chords, it then lets out an analog wave of a solo fraught with feedback as a rhythm guitar keeps the bastion in the back. It settles around the six-minute mark and everything dampens, yielding a faraway effect that slowly exits for another movement comprised of an overdriven guitar riff and laser-gun blast legatos. Lyrics enter here, although muffled out by a throng of dissonant notes and corpulent power chords. But it seems they’re less for semantic value than a contrivance to express an atavism that matches the singular language and raw energy of the electric guitar. All is blanketed by fuzz.
At about the 11-minute mark, it glides into yet another movement of the overlong track. The vocals return with new spews of balderdash as gargantuan guitar chords come with the same insistence but this time at a slow and unremitting speed. The last minute employs some live-DJ-like dial-turning gimmicks on, unsurprisingly, another gif of a riff to fade out.
Finally, the second track, “Worm Gear,” comes in torturing its most loyal instrument into screams and whines, all caked in feedback mods. They visit the doom-metal plane in this one as yet more strumming continues and with indefatigable stamina, over-and-overing the same note while choking it with bends all at a steady rate of approximately 330 strikes a minute, more-or-less. (Imagine the forearms on these guys.) It does the same thing for about half of the 13-minute song with extremely scant differentiation, hoping to gaslight as palatable music.
The only thing its repetitiousness arouses is a stupefied and sullen state of mind. It’s completely overdone. But then again, this is the dissolution of rock, so it’s less about the enjoyment than it is about the historical destruction of something preordained, a kind of sonic disestablishmentarianism. But unlike punk, it’s tasteless.
Broadside aside, the last track of Soft Opening’s three, “Specificity (Or What Have You),” deserves a gold star for its oxymoronic name. The brightness and twinkle of it comes as a very stark contrast to all the blackness and doom that preceded it. A pretty pleasant and chipper chord progression raises the proverbial eyebrow in suspicion to this unexpected but welcome turn, but it still comes on, no kidding, morphing into a delicious and winding bassline. Then the intolerable strumming strikes again, although this time in a cheery inflection. More lyric-centric and conventionally structured, some words actually form out of the amorphous babble. The phrases range in really abstruse concepts, like time, hallucination, existentialism, religion, life and joy it then swiftly deconstructs with nihilism. It’s all “something, it’s nothing.”
That last statement is really an apt self-description of Soft Opening. Made by dilettantes more impelled by the urge to assuage their ennui than an innate passion to create, it’s not a pleasurable listen. Make no mistake though, there are some magnificent moments that restore hope to it but they’re so few and ephemeral that they may well have not even happened. The anti-light of the rest of the album subsumes it. Because all it is, to subscribe with the lyrical lessons of the last minutes of the LP, is just noise and more noise without a reason or a rhyme.