[28 July 2004]
With a stack of CDs beside my computer waiting to be listened to and reviewed, I can usually glean an idea of what the band will sound like based on such superficial things as what label the group is on and a quick glance at their one-sheet. However, rare is it that I am as at a loss for words as I am with Human Hand, Animal Band, the fifth full length by the Austin, Texas-based Rhythm of Black Lines. A dense, beautiful album, it is so wholly original and ambitiously conceived that mere comparison couldn’t do the band justice.
Spanning ten tracks, the disc has nothing that feels short of epic. Each song could be a mini-EP unto itself as each track feels completely realized. It is rare that I will get this sense of complete devotion when listening to a CD, but here the blood, sweat and tears are palpable. Rhythm Of Black Lines play like each song might be their last and that if they’re going to go out, it will be with a bang. It is difficult to describe the album without making references that I feel will short-change the band, and if you were even thinking about picking this up, I would recommend to stop reading here and listen to this album fresh.
From the opening notes of “The Tooth” there is no denying that Rhythm Of Black Lines are going to take you on a journey. Imagine the post-rock guitars of Chicago’s finest, battling David Byrne in a classical music-writing showdown and it might begin to approximate just what is going on here. “One Red Eye”, the best song on Human Hand, Animal Band, is a prime example of the Rhythm Of Black Lines’ visionary songwriting. The song starts a minute of strings and horns that decompose into a swirl of noise and this is all before the song begins, yet none of it feels extraneous or pretentious. The song proper is framed by a rather complex guitar line that leads into a stunning horn driven chorus that has Clint Newsom singing: “To hold your hand you’ll run the course / And guide me down a fatal trap / Can’t read the type with one open eye / No more red no more blue / No more yellow this is true.” The centerpiece of the album is the three-part “PJs”. Best experienced as a whole, this is both the loudest and most ambitious part of the album, and it succeeds brilliantly. Brimming with strings and horns the song builds and cascades wonderfully over its twelve-minute running time. This track has song structures reminiscent of prog rock’s finest progenitors and with an uncanny attention to detail, and further listens reveal backing vocals, sounds and parts of songs that may have been missed on the first go round.
The term “art rock” usually brings to mind high-minded college students with too much music theory and pop culture references churning out music that needs a thesis attached to it to gain any insight. Though the phrase “art rock” would be more than fitting for Rhythm of Black Lines, it is immediately accessible and rewarding. Imaginatively composed and executed with a confident panache, Human Hand, Animal Band promises a great future from Rhythm of Black Lines.