Rope - Heresy, and Then Nothing But Tears (Family Vineyard CD)

Family Vineyard also released this yesterday alongside Hisato Higuchi's "Dialogue" album: the sophomore record from Poles-turned-Chicagoians Rope. In case you weren't aware Rope are kind of a power trio plus - Robert Iwanik takes care of bass and vocal duties, Przemyslaw Krzysztof Drazek plays guitar and Michael J. Kendrick does triple time on percussion, electronics and trap set. Joining them for this release is vocalist Grazyna Auguscik, saxophonist Martin Belcher and Oxbow's Eugene Robinson who co-wrote and guested on four of the songs.
It's hard to get a real handle on Rope's sound - the sticker on the sleeve this came in describes the band as a "flummoxing rock trio". They certainly are flummoxing. And rooted in the rock genre, but touching off on free jazz, explosive heavy metal, no wave, prog, avant gardisms and dosed with an equal amount of film score atmospherics. That's a lotta ground to cover in 50 minutes. Ultimately though this isn't nearly so much Naked City blasterpieces as it is one long brooding threat divided up into seven not-so-easy pieces. "She the Assassin" wanders through skittery avant jazz turf that quickly calls to mind Last Exit before they really get cookin' and even (bear with me on this one) the stretched-out freakprog moments of the Mars Volta. Both "She the Assassin" and the following track "Heresy" dwell in the same dark confines of their collaborator Eugene Robinson's band Oxbow although considerably more disjointed (it's possible!) and less the face-bruising metal that Oxbow's iron fist brings. In fact there are a couple of neat parts that would never find their way into an Oxbow song or a Swans' song for that matter, like Kendrick's all-too-short rolling, flailing drum solo. "Blood Stained Lust" teases plenty of balls-to-the-wall rifftastic moments and wildly free jams but never really builds to anything (despite its 9 minute length) and instead settles for short, machine gun bursts. The last four songs on the album were all co-written by (and feature) Robinson's unique talents, and the first of these is "The Financial Imperative" which at two minutes in length could almost serve as an introduction to a seperate album entirely, or an album within an album if you prefer. Robinson whimpers, growls, moans, groans, whines and slurps his way through apparent actual lyrics - they're right there in the booklet - and pretty much sets the stage for the remaining thirty-ish minutes. "Our Beast" follows and is far and away the best track on the album and dare I say the best Oxbow track that Oxbow never wrote because that's exactly what it sounds like to me...although, again, I'm not sure if Oxbow could pull off the wonderful, cascading guitar lines that crystallize like sand being blown into glass in the way Rope do. Add to that Robinson delivering lines like "It is now five o'clock in the morning/I breathe hard and watch the yard down below" in his trademark howl and it's really a thing of beauty. "This is Love" is another brief track and of course is rife with Robinson's mumbling and smacking lips...geeez it sure is a pretty ominous thing despite the title. Album closes with the "Grand Humiliation of Misery" which is every bit as huge as the name would imply at 20 big minutes. Man this cut throws everything at you and appears to be the culmination of all of Rope's efforts to date: Robinson's present and so is Grazyna Auguscik (to chilling effect towards the song's conclusion); there's massive feats of percussive frenzy, flatlined guitar string dissonance and full-on chaotic noise-rock brainbombing...unfortunately for all their efforts the group seem to run out of ideas halfway through and pad the rest of the track out with long drones, Robinson's vocal chord calisthetics, a drummed-out heartbeat rhythm and some pretty inconsequential electronic jabbering. Maybe I'm just a sucker but I was hoping the group would finally take full-flight instead of only showing flashes of the beautiful aural violence they're capable of creating. And I guess that's my problem with the album as a whole - it's nice and there's a lot of good ideas but sometimes the group seem focused so hard on creating the perfect spooky/threatening sound that they neglect the obvious simplicities that they should be indulging in. Sometimes you just have to break out the powerchords, the riffs, the pounding drums and get primitive with the whole thing. Then again maybe I'm just a simp.
All that being said this is a nice album but I can't help shake the nagging feeling that I'd rather just listen to Oxbow - when your sound already identifies closely with a band, but on top of that you invite their singer to co-write and perform on half your album, you're pretty much begging for inevitable comparisons. Still though I'm curious to find out where the group will head with their next album...and hopefully it won't take another three years to find out the answer.


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