Very few people have ever listened to a truly great album just once and completely realised its brilliance. But by the same measure, repetition is a technique employed by the more cynical elements of the music industry to hammer average, inoffensive music into the masses until they submit, admit that it’s alright, and toddle off to iTunes to do as they’re told. And so it is unclear whether the fact that Old Volcanoes needs a lot of time to bed-in is a symptom of a great album slowly revealing itself, or whether the brain is simply numbed into a hypnotic approval. The difference between the two lies in whether repeated listening reveals its subtleties or whether the process is purely anaesthetic. By that criteria, the former starts to sound likely, because Old Volcanoes is a record that takes a while to like, but once you do, its discordant harmonies and sloping, off-kilter rhythms start to sound strangely attractive.
The musically eccentric individual behind Warm Brains is Rory Attwell, of whom much fuss is made that he used to be in Test Icicles, although it’s probably more musically significant that he has spent the many years since they broke up behind the production desk for a series of wonderfully scrappy indie bands like Male Bonding, Veronica Falls and Teeth. His experience has put him in the position where he can perform and produce all of his work; Old Volcanoes being his own warped, singular vision. It’s a truly curious vision, as his songs veer from the intoxicated rambling of ‘Drunk Drivers’ to the tightly constructed math-rock of ‘Old Volcanoes’; and as a result the whole album feels like a haphazard, drunken wandering. Strangely, the more you listen to it, the more it seems like the perfect way to do things.
The focus is not necessarily on pioneering new sounds, but more an inventive appraisal of recent indie music; ‘Let Down’ sounds like a warm, grungey Yuck track, the opener ‘Worries Seed’ recalls The Horrors circa their first scuzzy, dense EP, and ‘Weird Eyes’’ hypnotic monotony is lifted straight from These New Puritans’ morbid and affecting aesthetic. Although it’s easy to cite Attwell’s possible influences, he avoids being simply derivative by covering the record with his innovative quirks.
Innovation is not everything, though, and though Attwell’s disposition to try new ideas is the record’s biggest strength, when things don’t quite come off, it can be quite jarring. The most obvious example is ‘This Salt Makes Me Sick’ which is deliberately abrasive, but it’s hard to understand why and it comes off sounding like a reject from Guantanamo Bay’s music torture program. ‘Hit The Floor’ is just as purposefully obtuse, although it does have a certain eccentric Eastern-European-folk-music charm. If that happens to be your thing.
But only in those isolated examples are the results of repetition a numbed acquiescence. Elsewhere, each listen to ‘Painting 2FT Tall Lines’ reveals another strand to its leaning melancholy and album closer ‘Stone To Sand To Glass’ rounds things off with an intriguingly nervous and stripped back vocal, gently teasing that there’s a lot more to come from Attwell’s prolific mind. So though Old Volcanoes is a lesson in patience and painstaking detail, you end up wishing that he had just continued.