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Opening with the epic “Warsaw Air and Water,” Slarps’ eponymously titled latest is both exactly like their previous three and like nothing anyone has ever heard before. The brainchild of former Bronx guitarist Gio Griffin and Chubby bassist Jake Terry, Slarps is madcap electric shiver prog-funk fusion with screaming distortion and frenetic time changes that somehow manage to remain toe tapping. A lot of it is perhaps self indulgent but most of it is exciting and fun, proving once again (to me at least) that danceable doesn’t have to mean mindless.
Fully instrumental this time, Griffin and Terry might seem to have abandoned any attempts at connecting to a more (for them) mainstream audience except the songs here are all infectious, high energy workouts. Streamlined and hectic, everything and then some gets looped, squashed, stretched and butchered into compliance. Guitar riffs become solos become melodies; drums punctuate, dictate and conflagrate over and alongside crunchy basses, smooth basses and crazy basses.
“Polyptique” gets its odd time groove on with Terry neck-tapping a custom 6 string Barwick bass which sets the stage for processed arson guitar and jazzy, doubletime drum patterns courtesy of Gabe Fausch. The drummer gets plenty of chances to shine but tends to keep things moving rather than draw attention to how amazing everything he does sounds, allowing his mates their own space and keeping the focus on the songs. Keyboardist Vincent Alfonso brings his lightning fast fingers front and center for “Honeymoon Disease,” a seven-plus minute Latin-flavored honky tonk barn burner.
Bronx only released two albums (2012’s Dusted and 2014’s Stupid Hairdo) but their extensive touring and myriad guest appearances gained them a fair following and Griffin a reputation for being a fierce and fearless soloist. He would leave Bronx in 2015 to pursue punk-bop jazz with Terry in the short lived Hammurabi’s Lode before the two formed Slarps. They kept their new project under wraps while they wrote and recorded, enlisting Alfonso and Fausch before setting out to play a few “secret” gigs at small venues on the west coast. Word quickly spread of how strange and wonderful their music was, even if the band was nowhere to be found unless you happened to visit any of the tiny clubs where they were honing their sound. Finally came their debut in 2017, Mustard Bastard, a five track masterpiece of endless imagination and feverish virtuosity within arrangements that let them let loose.
On 2018’s Syngenite, Griffin explored minimalist chaos theory, keeping the band on a (relatively) short leash with an emphasis on brevity in the solo sections. That album tightened the band’s sound and they’ve never let go since, packing ten minutes of wizardry into five or six minute stunners like the ethereal “Bag Of Bones,” featuring marvelous interplay between Griffin and Terry. The band has also both loosened and tightened their instrumentation by experimenting with weird sounds interesting enough to take the place of one or more traditional instruments, giving the songs an airy buoyancy that’s positively untethered. Or using hybrid noises that evoke other instruments like ghostly shadow musicians, haunting the recording but otherwise nowhere to be found in the real world.
Working for a third consecutive time with producer Ski Daddle, himself a gifted guitarist who led math-metal quintet Persia until their recent self imposed exile, the band can still deliver the goods while remaining experimental. Nothing seems off limits: interlocking rhythms touching on techno slowly dissolve into star-soaked swamp stomp; up tempo 7/8 lines grow increasingly complex with each musician splintering off into multiple time signatures; for the finale, “Listeria” keeps driving the thunder riffs home until they become fractured caricatures of themselves, like a sonic rainbow slowly crashing to Earth in disintegrating death spirals.
This is a recording that could be described as “challenging,” but like all deeply interesting art, it doesn’t need to be dissected to be enjoyed. If you just want to listen to strange and unusual music, simply press “play.” If you want to analyze and break everything down, knock yourself out. There’s plenty here to quantify and just as much to make you tap your foot and bob your head, even if you give yourself whiplash trying to keep up.
“We decided a long time ago to just make the kind of music we would want to hear, to be a band we would want to see,” Griffin told a reporter for Mired magazine back in 2014 while on break from a tour of Japan. “Forget what anybody else wants. We like weird music. We gravitate toward new and interesting things. But instead of seeking it out, now we just make it ourselves.” And lucky for us Rat Dandruff Records allows the band free reign.