All too often, experimental music can seem like a chore. Much like forcing down a nutritious but really quite unpleasant health drink, you know you’re doing something virtuous when taking in another bout of intellectually endowed but coldly detached minimalism or sitting through a torrent of nails-down-a-blackboard noise action, but it isn’t necessarily that much fun.
On Master, Teeth of the Sea prove that a taste for experimental explorations doesn’t have to neglect the listener’s need to be entertained as well as challenged. It’s a trick the North London quartet perfected on 2010′s Your Mercury, a high water mark of contemporary, electronically endowed – in search of a less awkward term – post-rock. This follow-up is powered by the same blend of the majestically mournful and the teeth-grindingly abrasive, only with less dense textures (a good thing), and a more pronounced interest in propulsive beats and rhythms (an even better thing).
Perhaps echoing the band’s recent experiences of film-scoring, the best moments (and there’s plenty of them) of Master bring to mind the soundtrack to some imaginary dystopian sci-fi disaster flick, with battered beasts gliding over a demolished landscape of deserted cities trapped in perpetual night: for example, check out the unsettling yet strangely moving anti-ambient of ‘Siren Spectre’.
It’s not a large serving of happy easy listening, then, but Teeth of the Sea have the good sense to pepper Master‘s spooky goings-on with trance-inducing beats and an assortment of melodic hooks. ‘Black Strategy’ might sound like oil drums being banged on whilst an array of instruments are subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, but the track soon builds up a compelling, horns-blaring momentum reminiscent of Giorgio Moroder staring down a black hole somewhere on the outer reaches of cosmic nothingness. Elsewhere, ‘Reaper’ welds the band’s feel for bringing the noise to antique Kraftwerk synth lines and – for an all-too fleeting moment – dubbed out horns, although things take a turn towards less compelling terrain once the frenetic beats give way to a more conventionally stodgy post-rock assault.
Generally, the heavier and more densely layered things get, the less compelling the album becomes. Granted, the pumped-up oomph of ‘Pleiades Underground/Inexorable Master’s muscle-flexing is as brutally efficient as a slap on the chops, but it’s a touch too close to the self-conscious evilness of metal to fully convince. The spoken word experiments, such as ‘Put Me on Your Shoulders So I Can See the Rats’ (a title that encapsulates much of the mood of the album), pale next to more musically orientated outpourings.
Thankfully, Master has the good sense to save the best until last. The frankly terrifying techno bombardment – is that a badly mauled set of panpipes I can hear? – of ‘All Human Is Error’ is a startlingly potent concoction. The concluding, epic ‘Responder’, a desolate trumpet to the fore, is even better. After an elegiac start, just when you think you’re in for a quiet glide into the sunset, the band perform a u-turn, launching into a propulsive ‘motorik’ disco-skronk work-out that could last for half a century without anyone complaining. Kneel for the Master indeed.