Crooked Necks
Alright Is Exactly What Isn't

In recent years it’s been increasingly difficult to accurately describe the growing sect of acts that co-opt black metal stylings with a variety of other genres, if only for brevity’s sake. “Umm, they’re kinda like atmospheric, psychedelic black metal with some shoegazey parts, blah blah…” Speaking only for myself, when a description such as “black metal” gets thrown out in a discussion or reviews my mind instantly goes to the tried and true or “orthodox” sound of this style (ie. buzzing guitar, blast beats, snarly/high-pitched vocals and general misanthropy). So it should be no surprise that when bands like AlcestCircle of Ouroborus or Lantlos get the epithet “black metal” thrown at them, it’s really a disservice to the band and reader alike. However, Crooked Necks debut album takes this notion to unrivaled levels of misnomer.

The band is a two-piece from Virginia who ultimately play a brand of dreamy, lo-fi indie rock with shoegaze influences running throughout. It’s actually brilliantly executed in its simplicity and delivery; and quite catchy. The texture is kept just slightly rough with a dry recording to lend it a credible feeling of melancholy and pop minimalism – think a very mellowed out My Bloody Valentine with almost no distortion (I realize MBV and “almost no distortion” is almost oxymoronic). So, “Where’s the ‘black metal’ influence?” you may be asking… well, it’s manifested entirely in the vocal department. I’m not sure how that reads, but when you HEAR the aforementioned soft shozegaze, complete with delicate reverb indie-isms, paired with abrasive black metal vocals laid over top, it is quite the juxtaposition (usually beginning with a, “WTF?!”). Whereas Alcest or even Circle of Ouroborus take their black metal cues mainly in the music/atmosphere department, their vocals are far from the raw, high -pitched screams of typical black metal. With Crooked Necks inverting this basic formula (ie. BM influenced music + melodic/clean vocals) it really leaves mixed feelings.

The band uses the formula consistently, with the lead-off track “This Place Is Violent” setting the tone and general blueprint for the whole album. Reverb-soaked clean vocals, delicate drumming and melodic guitar/bass interplay all set to a very minimal energy (perhaps in due part because the album was mastered by James Plotkin specifically for vinyl?)… albeit WITH black metal screams laid over top for the choruses. The first time you hear it, it’s confusing, almost to the point of wondering if the screams are there only as a novelty. But I’ve found that those initial challenging listens are proving rewarding, as the more I spin Alright Is Exactly What Isn’t, it’s showing to be a slowburner of an album that grows on you over time; or maybe now I’m expecting the BM screams instead of them sneaking up out of nowhere. And even more complimenting is the fact that I’m having a hard time pegging down similar acts currently out there. Perhaps Circle of Ouroborus (who they’ve done a split release with in the past) is a good reference point conceptually, if only for the fact that both bands blend seemingly disparate styles into something unique and new.

In the end, the only real dilemma is finding the appropriate time to listen to the album. One might be tricked into listening to this while relaxing or resting at home but then those black metal shrieks come to surface and break the calm. However, musically it’s too mellow to put on while working or typing, again there’s nothing black metal happening musically. Quite the conundrum. I think it’s best to be listened to in an engaged setting, free of distraction, either intentionally at home or while driving.

What’s interesting is if the band kept only the clean style of vocals they would be Pitchfork indie/hipster kid fodder for a good while (the band even did a five song EP of just Joy Division covers previously). As it stands, Alright Is Exactly What Isn’t serves up eight songs between four to eight minutes in length which challenge listeners on both sides of the coin with it’s unique ceremony of opposites. With a two-disc new release coming out later in 2012 I’d expect this band to start gaining much more attention and I’m very curious to hear if there are any augmentations to their formula.

 

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Stacy Buchanan
May 24th, 2012

Comments

  1. Commented by: Adolf Oliver Fingers

    All of these post-blackmetal-indie-shoegaze-fag-hipster bands need to GO DIE….


  2. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    or maybe you could just not listen to them, hey?


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