Normal Love: Survival Tricks Reviewed

I have avant-garde in the title of the blog, yet I still haven’t reviewed anything that the general public couldn’t easily digest. I’ve also been focusing on fairly big names. My goal is to eventually phase into reviewing much less well-known bands doing more experimental stuff. Today we’ll get our first taste of this with Normal Love’s Survival Tricks which released on May 21, 2012.

I’m not sure this band can be legitimately called metal. For the purposes of reviewing albums, metal will contain albums like this that can really only be classified as extreme listening or experimental music … or something. The category doesn’t really matter. This is one heck of an intense album, but in a good way.

Take the first track. The chaos is so total that there is almost no discernible beat. It sounds as if the musicians are just in free improv all over each other. Somehow this is not the case. The music is at least somewhat (but probably all) composed. On the first listen it might not be obvious, but all musicians arrive at key points at exactly the same time and the singing aligns often in unison with the violin. This is no accident.

The first track reminds me so much of Crumb’s (now 81) Black Angels that it must be in homage to one of the inventor’s of this style of composition. The second track is not as chaotic. It has more of a beat, and more extended vocal techniques. One of my favorite elements of this album comes in at this point: the subtle electronica that fill in and create an interesting global sound.

My favorite track is probably Grimy Super Soaker. It involves fast syncopated almost hiccups of alternating vocals and band sounds. The reverb slightly delayed background of the vocals is pretty awesome. The song is technical enough that I always think about what a pain it must have been to perfect and play live.

The ablum itself somehow fits together into a whole, yet every song is so different in style and sound that taken out of context it would probably be hard to tell they are all by the same band. For example, Cultural Uppercut is somewhat of a deconstructed dance or pop piece with a very firm beat. The track after that is another of my favorites, and it foregoes all tempo in favor of pure soundscape (we also get the lyric “ancient voices” which again must be homage to Crumb’s Ancient Voices of Children or I’m losing my mind with all these Crumb references).

So how does one judge and rate music like this? It is essentially impossible. Here is what I’ll go on. Often music that has this level of abstraction and avoids convention to this extreme can be nonsensical/boring/impossible to follow/pure musical masturbation. What is the point of making something extreme and totally new if the listener doesn’t find it exciting and interesting?

I found myself constantly excited about the things I was hearing. Normal Love isn’t just making abstract nonsense, but a totally fresh combination of avant, highly technical composed music with interesting modern instrumentation and electronics. If the composer inside you is saying, “Oh, I want to use that,” then it is doing its job. Take my rating however you want, but just know that I highly recommend this album as probably the most important of the year for anyone interested in experimental music.

Officially I’ll give it an 8.5/10.

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