It isn’t often that I’d recommend an album come with a warning label. Music is emotionally affecting, yes, that’s the point, but it’s rare for something musical to bring with it an experience so intense that, had you known what you know now before pressing play, you’d have at least considered turning away. Or running, screaming.
Well, say hello to Yours Sincerely, Dr Hardcore.
Welsh foursome Gallops came into the public consciousness in 2010 with a fascinating self-titled EP of intensely tight, time signature-chopping beats, striking guitars and bleep-ridden synth noise. Four songs in length, it was a Battles-esque, perfectly satisfying piece of instrumental math rock, which promised a solid future for the band. At the announcement of their debut album, then, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on it.
Enter scene: Warm living room, myself and two housemates. Play is pressed, volume is up and minds are turned towards the album, ready to discuss its coming thrashy-tight delights.
Fifty-four minutes later, however, and the mood in the room is a little different. Somehow, the warmth has been sucked from the air. Little has been heard from any of the three of us, save the desolate tappings on my keyboard and the occasional, cautious question of how to spell, say, “abyss” or “brutalised” for my notes, but there’s a shared feeling as the album fades into its close: shaken relief.
It’s not that the sounds of the album are actually in themselves horrible, or that we’re not used to a bit of darkness in our music. It’s not just that the album sounds like the soundtrack to some horrific dystopian future, co-dirceted by Ridley Scott and Michael Haneke, or that it’s so unfathomably fast and loud – this is, after all, “hardcore”. This would be bearable, un-affecting even, were we able to simply turn the album off, or leave the room. But we’re not. Because really, the thing that makes Yours Sincerely, Dr Hardcore so soul destroying is this: it’s brilliant.
Brilliant if you can make your way through it, anyway. By the time the totally aurally encapsulating rhythm of choppy guitar noise, brittle synth and incomprehensible drumming thunders through the speakers for ‘Hongliday’, the third track, it’s already probably time to take a break from Your Sincerely… That is, if you’d prefer not to fall directly into the black abyss this album seems to have come from (and I don’t mean Wales).
Futuristic, distortion-saturated synth bounces around ‘Lasers’ before the track breaks down into an atmosphere of nothing but brutal, yet somehow lulling noise. If you didn’t take that break I recommended, you’ll probably find yourself slowly rocking by this point, gazing into inner nothingness. Tip: If you’re no longer sure whether you’re still listening to the album you pressed play on, or if what you’re hearing is the sound of your own consciousness gone into meltdown, you may want to press stop. Or at least hope there’s someone in your immediate vicinity who’s still capable of pressing stop.
Blinding electric shocks from the darkness characterise ‘Rhythm is a Misery’, before ‘G is for Jalie’ acts as a showcase for just how mentally unstable Gallops’ drummer must be. Peeking through the inhumanly hardcore, multi-layered rhythms, like a glimmer of light, comes the sound of a squeaky-clean shiny pop clap, straight out of a Robyn track. And it’s enough proof for me, there’s no other reason they would have made an album like this: Gallops are trying to fuck with us.
Nearing the end, ‘Skyworth’ brings what might be a brighter note, although it’s hard to be sure what brighter feels like anymore. If you’re still the person you were when this started, you’ll probably be able to pick out the similarities here to Gallops’ Blood and Biscuits labelmates, Three Trapped Tigers. There’s even something Tall Ships-like that comes through. Don’t let yourself imagine this is as easy going as Tall Ships, though, you’ll only slip into pointless fantasy of escape.
One more to go. Last track, ‘Crutches’, is a ten-minute endurance test which, if nothing else, solidifies Gallops’ desire to break their audience. Cutting jabs of an electro-charged aural razor blade scar the first few minutes, which continue the intense dystopian soundscape which has been building since that far-away living room scene in which we pressed play.
But then, everything stops, broken down into something melodious and pleasing. The guitars are almost sweet. Simple, ratting snare drum floats underneath, harmonious chords swell, bringing us up into the light. It’s a relief, but confusing. Have they relented? Have they seen that we’ve had enough? It’s starting to feel like we’ve made it out.
The sweet sounds continue. Then there’s more of them, and more. They’re building, faster and faster until we realise we’ve been tricked. By the time our heads have wrapped themselves round the idea that it might not be over, the sweet sounds have melted back into crashes of malicious drums and harsh white noise. They fooled us. They won.
Regardless of all this, though, it’s hard to argue that Gallops haven’t created something special here. It’s true that whether or not you’ll actually enjoy this album depends heavily on your stamina, and how vulnerable to the pulls of masochism you are, but, if you manage to get through Yours Sincerely, Dr Hardcore without falling into desolate moans, clawing across the floor for the off switch, you might find something fantastic here. You’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing you’re a better man than me.