Danish post/math/whatever rock oddities return after a decade long hiatus and pick up where they left off.
It’s been a long time now since rock music was capable of surprising anyone. It’s been around the block a fair old few times and filched bits of pretty much every other popular genre genre along the way to becoming what we know it as today. And you would think it’d be even harder to do something that sounds genuinely alien in a traditional rock trio – there surely can’t be much left to do with the guitar/bass/drums set up that hasn’t been done before. But every now and again somebody comes along and reframes rock slightly, stretching and twisting it in ways that if not exactly new at least sound somewhat fresh. It may not be possible or even necessary to reinvent the wheel but it’s always refreshing to find something that suggests there might just be something, somewhere, new under the sun.
It’s a testament to how unusual Silo’s warped rock sound is that after getting back together following a 10 year layoff their back catalogue still sound odd. Despite having such an austere palette to work with they create a woozy, dreamlike breed of mathy rock that, whilst reminiscent of a few other bands here and there, doesn’t quite sound like anyone else. They sound a bit like a 90s/00s alt-rock outlier like, say, Polvo producing their own remix album of a record that never was. Or perhaps like Battles (who of course formed during Silo’s hiatus) if they were less jittery and short of attention. They resist easy comparison, but do at least give a clue as to what’s in store with the album title –Work is an apt name for these grinding, monotonous grooves. They seem to ape industrial processes better than most industrial music does, and the hypnotic repetition and off kilter rhythms create an airy, dizzying effect that many shoegaze outfits would do well to take note of (if they could tear their eyes from the MBV playbook for a moment). If you’re interested in the utilitarian possibilities of an album then it’s also worth noting that Work this is a great record to work to – you get hypnotised by the repetition of the strange, shifting rhythms and get things done whilst almost not paying attention to anything at all. It’s easy to get lost in – on headphone listens to and from work I can walk down several streets on autopilot and suddenly find myself on my doorstep with no recollection of how I got there.
Album opener Filaments works as a primer for what’s to come, but the best examples of this unique effect comes from the following one-two of Mechanics and Stationary. The former works with a simple, driving three chord riff that repeats in a couple of variations for the entire songs duration, with some odd synthesised voice providing the only embellishments. There are vocals but they gets subsumed by the shuffling, all-encompassing haze. I couldn’t tell you what the lyrics are like – I only remember the odd word or phrase. It may seem like a strange comparison but it reminds me of MC dälek’s work in dälek’s back-to-back classic run of Absence and Abandoned Language – the voice seems indistinct but works as a simple melodic thread that guides you through the maelstrom around it. The vocals on Stationary follow theme, being similarly indistinct, swallowed whole by the swirling digitised guitar and bass track. It’s utterly mesmerising, but I’ve got to hold my hands up and admit I’ve no idea how it’s made – the low, fuzzy edged bass seems to simultaneously cut through and distort the sustain on the guitar notes. On their website they talk about how each guitar track has been processed almost obsessively, the results of which are as confounding as they are brilliant.
The trouble is that as good as this trick is they don’t have many others in their armory. And what’s more they don’t seem entirely sure what to do with the trick they have. The last few tracks feel like retreads of the first few – particularly Generals which feels like a negative of Stationary – they work well on their own but in a full album sitting their shortcomings become apparent. It’s like even after all this time they’re not sure what to do with the potent atmosphere they create – many songs just sort of stop rather than end properly, including the final track and the album itself.
Perhaps wary of things getting samey they enlist a few guest vocalists to break up the monotony. Anti-pop Consortium collaboration Cabinn Fever is the pick of the bunch – which is impressive given the history of rock/rap crossovers being so, shall we say, chequered. At first it seems like a strange collaboration but it soon becomes apparent that Silo’s awkward shuffling beats are the perfect foil for High Priest and M. Sayyid, who are no strangers to unusual and at-first-glance counter-intuitive backings to rhyme over in their day job. They’re both lyrically dexterous enough to navigate this uneasy terrain and make it sound natural. Maria Hamer-Jenson fares less well on Power Points; Silo deploy her R&B style vocals over one of their more off-kilter rhythms, which doesn’t give her much room to manoeuvre. Her voice doesn’t quite fit – whilst trying to work out why I noticed Hamer-Jensen singing the songs closing line, “it’s the juxtaposition” over and over again. She’s right. It’s the juxtaposition that doesn’t quite work. The third and final guest is Jonas Bjerre of Mew who turns up to do a few ahhhs on the short-and-sweet O. It’s nice enough but if you weren’t told it was him guesting you probably wouldn’t notice.
Then comes Generals which harks back to the albums best tracks and the excellently titled The Inexorable sadness of Pencils, which lives up to it’s fine name and evokes the desolate, soulless feeling of empty offices. After that finishes seemingly halfway through I’m suddenly glad I don’t do review scores – the finest moments on Work would compel me to give an 8 or a 9 but the number of tracks that don’t work and general sameyness would mean it would probably dictate a 7 or a 6. It’s a patchy album that works best when broken up and listened to in pieces – or better yet jigsawed into mix tapes. Regardless of the quality of the company you put it in a large chunk of Work would be an undoubted highlight of any compilation. And that’s high praise indeed.