Planets – s/t

Planets
s/t

Distile continues to put out thoughtful, complex music by some of the most talented math-rock bands around. This time, it’s the band Planets from California. For a French label, Distile seems to be grabbing up the best bands of this genre from all over the place.

Bookended by the songs “In” and “Out,” this self-titled debut album from the duo of Paul Slack and Thomas Crawford amazes. I had listened to it a number of times before I read the band’s bio and was learned that it consists of only two musicians and that the instruments are bass and “not bass,” by which the band seems to mean primarily “drums.” The sound is full and full of surprises. It’s like Crom-Tech for bass. It’s like Lightning Bolt in intensity, dexterity, and adaptability.

The 12 songs consist of instrumentals, with occasional spoken words buried away. While most of the tracks want to give you whiplash, there exist brief moments of relief from the onslaught. “Dude Life” intersperses some toned-down passages of a repeating loop of… um… something. Lead cut “In” has some squeaks and squawks, some blips and machine-sounding noises, that sound pacific in the context of the rest of the album. Its atmospherics do not prepare you for the rest of the album.

The songs generally move from idea to idea, passage to passage, in linear patterns. They dispense with chorus and verse, but you probably weren’t expecting traditional structures from players this talented. These two musicians probably get bored playing the same thing for more than a few seconds, almost literally. “Free Ranger,” its title alone giving away the song’s intentions and direction, and “Vow of Silence” are remarkable in their agility. But then, the same could be said for “Steps,” “To Think,” and the others.

Finally, “Out” sounds like Primus scoring a videogame soundtrack. It’s short, and it’s almost comical against the breakneck craziness everywhere else.

The CD’s handmade packaging is remarkable as well. Its burlap-like casing, lovingly stitched together, is unlike any packaging I’ve come across.

Math-rock like this probably appeals to a relatively narrow slice of the listening public. Musicians will appreciate its complexity and its players’ abilities. Fans of the more aggro bands like The Locust will probably go for it also, even if it doesn’t exhibit quite the same kind of catharsis. And as much as it’s an album to be appreciated cerebrally, I’d wager that it’s best seen performed live. Catch them if you can.