Ever since Coleridge penned “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, the albatross has been a symbol of hindrance and burden. It is perplexing that six carnies from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania would appropriate this symbol as their moniker—especially when the music they create has the restlessness of a gypsy and the indistinguishable heritage of a nomad.
While their closest brethren, the likes of the Blood Brothers and At the Drive In, have been laid to rest in the outer terrains of noise and hardcore punk, An Albatross have travelled down an altogether different and near untraceable route. Trapping such disparate ingredients as grind, hardcore punk, and thrash metal, and adding hints of Latin music to the natural carnival flavour that exists in their cauldron, An Albatross present a heady, often bewildering, but ultimately engaging brew they have titled The Family Album.
The proceedings begin with the freewheeling circus grind of “Neon Guru”, which unexpectedly morphs into a Latin workout. Ringmaster Eddie B. Gieda’s club shout-out, “shakin’ and feelin’ / this is the beat / this is my favourite part”, works the listener to a frenzy. If “Neon Guru” didn’t lay to rest any doubts about the innovative nature of An Albatross, the tracks to follow would certainly dispel any traces of incredulity.
“And Now Emerges the Silver Pilgrim” playfully posits cartwheeling samba with unintelligible caterwauling. “Starving on Rabbit Meat” is a psychotic slow-burner with a bluesy organ swilling through the pungent concoction. “The Psychonaut and the Rustbelt” finds lasers zapping through a crust of grinding menace, horns peppering the chaos of its coda. “A Convivial Feast of the Peace Beast” is a lightning clown ditty with a skipping xylophone running circles through the circus ring.
The only track with any semblance of normality is “Floodgates Released”—the killer punk track on the album. Its scissor kick-inducing guitar riffs are counterbalanced by Hammond organ and screams and shrieks that ring like calls to arms rather than psychotic blathering. “Floodgates” turns out to be the most effective track on the album.
If “Floodgates” was the brightest act in this circus, the biggest misstep would be “Hymn of the Angel People”. While it begins promisingly enough with a demented keyboard-led thrash attack, it breaks into a spoken word section that would probably appeal more to Trekkies and Stargate fans than the average punk. Describing a bizarre cosmic journey by a certain band of desert dwelling pilgrims (“…each rotation of the sun emitting lycanthropic rays until lovebeasts they became / and shiver and shook in the night until the golden rays of dawns morning light”), a theme that seems to run through this album, this section only serves to enervate the listener with its spacey electronics and maudlin strings.
An Albatross have once again presented a record of musicality and mayhem, with its freak shows displayed alongside precise musical trapeze acts. As rich and diverse as this collection of tunes is, it is also cluttered and, at times, disjointed. When focused, An Albatross achieves the impact of the best noise-punk around today (as evidenced on “Floodgates Released”). However, it is also the adventurousness, the lack of the proverbial albatross around the neck of this band that make it truly unique. Whether these wondering sensibilities will conflate in a singular, coherent vision or go astray in the melange of multiplicity remains to be seen. Whatever trail they tread, one can be sure that An Albatross will always produce an interesting spectacle.