True confession before i move on too far in this review. Back in the late 1990s, i worked at a major IT firm, and DiCaprio bassist John Rae's father was my boss's boss. In fact, i am fairly certain that i met the bassist of this band back in the last century, when he was a small child visiting his father's office.
I actually found out about this connection sometime after DiCaprio had been recommended to me by a few people who know my fondness for angular post-punk. Specifically, the elder Rae reached out to me on LinkedIn, and we connected we chatted about my music writing "career" (if you can call it that), and then he mentioned this band as what his son is doing now.
Huh. Everyone sing along: "It's a small world, after all."
So, yes. Almost 20 years ago the father of the bassist of this band was the executive in charge of the department of a company i worked at. That is a pretty tenuous connection, and to be honest i personally feel that i have no conflict of interest here. I mean, the older Rae does not hold any control over my career at this point. However, we here at EvilSponge feel that it is best to be honest. So, if you suspect that the favorable review that follows stems from the fact that, when i was a fledgling IT nerd in 1998 an executive helped me get hired full-time instead of being a contractor, and now i am repaying this debt by liking the band of his son... Well, that is kind of messed up! I mean, what is wrong with you that you could think that?
The world works in strange circles sometimes. But -- there is a connection, however tenuous it may be.
And the thing is -- i really like this album. The bassistís father was the third person to recommend it to me. In fact, i had streamed several songs and enjoyed them enough to add the band to my "hope they play The EARL at a reasonable hour, soonish" list. After the third recommendation i downloaded it.
There is a lot to like here, especially if, like me, you enjoy angular post-punk. The music of DiCaprio is sparse and rhythmic, moving forward in strange jerky patterns such that you need either a near caffeine overdose or a slide rule in order to dance correctly to them.
The band is a three-piece, with John Swick on vocals and guitar, John Rae on bass, and drummer Russell Rockwell. Swick has apparently previously been in a band called Places to Hide, which i have never heard of. Rockwell also writes for local music site Immersive Atlanta, but Brendan will forgive him for scribing for a "competitor". [Brendan's Note: Like hell i will! He is dead to me!]
The record kicks off with a tense drum riff and the bass and guitar thrumming, sparse. The voice wanders in, a disaffected drawl spitting out words, the music parting for a quick rant, then back at it. A nice, tense intro, although at just over three minutes perhaps Pink Noise it just a bit too long.
The next track is just under two minutes of fast strumming and thunderous drums, Swick spitting out his words fast and furious. Ectoslavia bounces along nicely, the music parting for the band to yell "No original thoughts" for a brief chorus.
The whole band hammers at a ponderous riff to kick off Return to Babylon, a real see-sawing sound as Swick rants. And then in the middle it parts, and we get a bass riff taken from early Rodan, the song suddenly becomes classic math-rock, Slint and Rodan and all of Louisville shining through the clattering guitar, the deep bass riff, and the cymbal crashing. Lovely.
For Dark Water the band give us a distorted jangly rocker, a real swinging riff that bounces along. Swick wails and the song swings along, darkly, moodily. In the middle, the guitar stops and the drum retreats to a steady tap as the bass runs a fast riff. You don't see bass solos that often, but that is what they give us. Huh.
Negative Zone clatters in like a mid 1990s indie rock tune, the guitar chugging fast as the rhythm thumps along. We get perhaps the first really great vocal, "Have you been watching me, wasting my potential?" This takes me back to over-caffeinated dancing in the 1990s. Later, he gives us another great line: "Every time we're in the same room, i hope the world ends." Is that a compliment or an insult? I cannot decide, and who cares as the guitar jangles, the bass channels Peter Hook, and the drums tap flatly.
Black House moves at a ponderous pace, the bass guitar a thick rumble that drives the tune along, as the guitar clatters on the chorus. Black Mass is less tense, the guitar a nice strumming as the song slowly builds to a nice chiming end of echoed guitar.
Small Bog starts with the whole band hitting a staccato riff that comes from classic math rock, just a slightly odd rhythm. Then the vocalist says the album title, and suddenly Rae kicks in with a hell of a riff, the bass bouncing furiously as Swick rants his surreal lyrics. That riff though! Swick ends his rant with, "You used to love me for my innate sense of direction" and then he throws his guitar in with that driving bass riff, the drums crashing all around. Wonderful.
Drummer Rockwell kicks off Lions Paw with a steady riff that moves along nicely. The guitar and bass are sparser here, that insistent drumming keeping the voice company. This is sparse and tense, with a really great drum riff.
DiCaprio call back to Ectoslavia as they yell "No original thoughts" again on Blank Plague, a messy song that just flies along rapidly.
And then, just for the fun of it, they end the record with Hell Face and suddenly the tapped drums seem jazzy as the guitar and bass swing along and Swick sings a little more than his usual speaking cadence. And then -- "Bass solo!" and Rae goes off again. This is really fun, and a great end to the record.
The whole record is fun: sparse, angular, the vocals a surrealist rant over drums and bass and clattering guitar. Fans of math rock and post-punk will want to give DiCaprio a listen.