Longtime Controlled Bleeding fans, if there truly are any, have had to endure some wild turns and stylistic detours throughout the years. Locate someone who has stuck it out throughout the band’s entire thirty-plus year run, and you’ll be looking at the exception proving the rule. Odes to Bubbler, the group’s first album since the death of principal member Joe Papa, suffers from the same illness that has plagued the band throughout its career: an inability to sit still.
The album starts out in thematically sustainable terrain with the amphetamine rush of dirges like “Trawler’s Son”, “Shards Blown Back”, and “Controlled Bleeding” (a name-defining song over 30 years after the band’s formation? Well, at least it’s still full of surprises). After the advanced science of more electronic moments, these primitive pounders feel a bit like rockets fueled on steam, though the intensity is palpable. All of this energy is abruptly depleted by “A Love Song (In Three Parts)”, which dips into amorphous sonic rivulets of sound. It’s a more of a seven inch stand-alone track than an album piece really, a demonstration of the varieties within free-form noise. Starting out with some lovely kosmische arpeggio-laced synths that are not unlike something Daniel Lopatin might release, the track attempts harsh noise a la Knees and Bones power electronics roots, and then, later, tipsy free jazz.
There’s no trademark on the combination of spastic free jazz seizures, mouth histrionics, and seething grindcore that follows “A Love Song”, but Controlled Bleeding messing around in this space does feel like treading on marked territory, laid down and peed all over by The Boredoms and John Zorn 20 years ago. Then, there’s a couple ambient tracks, like graveyard comb “Grinder’s Song”, which should spook Demdike Stare and the pristine synths of the staid “Rothko”, before a slight reprise into rubbery erratic jazz, a live performance of motorik jamming, and more droning noise. Each distracted aside is not bad. It’s not disappointing. It’s not even anything Controlled Bleeding haven’t dabbled in before in various guises. The band’s obsession with skirting expectations reads like a constant challenge though, a resistance to the notion that any one would stick around throughout the entire course. The problem is that the band remains, at moments, likable, and thus difficult to dismiss outright. Any one of the segments on Odes to Bubbler could have made for decent listening. Smashed together though, it doesn’t come off challenging, just kind of brainless and tritely assembled.