You’ve seen this scene in a hundred bad sitcoms. A bunch of youthful friends decide to form a band. At their first “practice,” they set up their instruments, fire up their amps and proceed to “jam,” trusting some nameless muse to coordinate their efforts. And of course, it sounds utterly, unforgivably, trouser-dampeningly awful.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that you stock up on adult incontinence products prior to listening to Under Thunder and Flourescent Light. But let’s assume that in some distant parallel universe, the sitcom characters listened to their uncoordinated performance and said “Hey…we’ve got something here!”
Simply put, Storm and Stress have perfected the art of playing together without actually playing together. They collect the elements of indie/post rock and assemble them in the wrong order, or don’t bother to assemble them at all. “The Sky’s the Ground, the Bombs are Plants, and We’re the Sun, Love,” for instance, offers the requisite elements—understated, pastoral guitar and bass lines, mannered drumming and plaintive vocals—in an implausible order, dicing a “normal” song into miniscule segments and recombining the pieces in logic-defying patterns. Elsewhere, somnolent harmonies adjoin skittering, proto drum’n'bass beats, weak-throated vocals mingle with muddied basslines, and a recorded telephone conversation adds stability to a schizoid musical narrative.
The listener’s goal—assuming you’re the sort of listener who accepts goals—is to find the patterns in Storm and Stress’ apparent randomness, to understand the über-order of their chaos. However disjointed it may seem, Under Thunder… is quite a deliberate effort—it’s just deliberate in a brain-mangling, M.C. Esher-on-acid sort of way.
If nothing else, we’re spared the horror of Storm and Stress, after months of practice, cranking out a bland Bob Seger cover at the junior prom—compared to which chaos seems positively benevolent.
// Notes from the Road
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