Etaoin Shrdlu – Mating Calls

Etaoin Shrdlu - Mating Calls

Etaoin Shrdlu - Mating Calls

Math-rock instrumentals: a mainstay of the fringe. Typically bands that choose this style of music end up impressing critics but have trouble finding audiences. Not always the case, but certainly very few ever become household names. Exercises in technical precision and unusual composition just don’t translate into accessibility.

Etaoin Shrdlu takes its name from the order-of-frequency with which letters are commonly used in the English language. The musical language that the band uses, however, is not common. Favoring mid-tempo post-rock with odd time signatures and frequent changes in direction, the band speaks in paragraph form. It also uses its share of punctuation, whether by guitar-neck slides (“Camera Flirtura”) or sharp cymbal accents (“Yow”). There’s probably a way to map the songs onto verbal discursions, as some songs feel like narratives and others feel like arguments. Speaking of “Yow,” the band does cite Jesus Lizard as an influence but it seems like it would be more fitting to have named a song after that band’s guitarist and not its singer. Just saying.

Some of the guitar playing hints at Battles. A lot of the rhythms get to tracks by Traindodge or Dropsonic, without the lyrics or quite the same intensity. The cut “1995-1997” shows off the band’s versatility, swinging at times then breaking things down and getting a little more choppy, emphasizing unexpected offbeats or using other forms of syncopation. “Requisite” also swings a bit, as the songs in 3/3 time seem to do. “Brown Sabbath” again goes for a start-stop, jerky drums and bass combination where the guitars chug along over top of the noise.

Mating Calls will probably appeal more to musicians than to passive listeners. It’s a little nervous and twitchy, intentionally, and it goes for tension above resolution. It’s never over the top the way, say, Last of the Juanitas liked to do things. It’s almost polite in its assertions compared to its peers.