[7 December 2005]
If the members of Pop Will Eat Itself were allowed to breed, it’s a fair bet their offspring would act and perform like Test Icicles. Test Icicles produce a variety of styles, predominately combining punk-metal with dance-infused beats. Throwing together disparate sounds and genres doesn’t always work. A pity then, that I missed the November shows in New York as I really liked Pop Will Eat Itself before I grew up, and I haven’t yet been to a Slipknot show with the Chemical Brothers in support.
Domino Recordings describes 25-year-old Rory Aggwelt and the two 19-year-olds, Sam Merrann and Devonte Hynez as “restlessly inventive dudes, with divergent backgrounds in hardcore, metal, hardcore metal, and hip-hop”. The diversity is evident on Test Icicles’ For Screening Purposes Only, and made me want to pogo and/or nod my head along occasionally, sure, but more often I wanted to just bash my head in and pogo away.
Layered dance grooves and electronic noise did little to mask the antagonistically coarse and angular guitar, often characterized by deliberately awkward changes and upstruck chords that created disturbance. The screamed lyrics sounded suspiciously like that of archetypal metal vocals, barked and roared until throats turned raw and words were lost amid a stream of horror. This is the sound of petulance.
Test Icicles’ management may have a job on their hands as difficult as being asked to babysit the rebellious children of the Blair’s or Bush’s. Like spoiled children, they don’t want to play nicely, share toys, and tow the corporate line. This triumvirate prefers to bounce off walls, yell incoherently, and rudely gesticulate at convention while wearing a mischievous, malcontent smile.
To demonstrate how ‘wild’ Test Icicles can be, an open spat has been heating up with label mates The Arctic Monkeys. This is due to the lack of appreciation fans of the chart-topping Arctic Monkeys have offered Test Icicles at several venues around the UK during a combined tour. From a cynical perspective this looks like a relatively strong Machiavellian ploy by Domino to generate publicity for two of its charges. But if the hostility is genuine, and fans pick up on this, it may prove to be a kick in the swingers for both acts. But would that really matter for Test Icicles, whose members all play in other “projects”? Draw your own conclusions but personally I smell an “art project”.
Test Icicles may prove to be just three lads all gathered around their instruments, having fun, making noise, and crashing a few celebrity parties. For the most part For Screening Purposes Only sounds confused with many influences and styles; notably in the three-song sequence beginning with the accessible and infectiously buoyant “Boa vs Python” and ending with “Catch It”.
The snake-titled track draws together metal guitar, and has bouncy dance beats with ska influences strewn throughout. The most successful collusion, “Circle Square Triangle”, dances along an electronic percussion track, punctuated by Strokes-styled riffs and flourished with chanted lyrics that echo the Beastie Boys. Two competing styles fall foul to the throw-away fourth track “Catch It”, a fast-paced, aggressive metal thrash, laden with finger-scorching guitar solos, does the majority of For Screening Purposes Only disservice.
“Snowball” attempts to sweep together any remaining skeptics who would prefer to listen to ‘70s throw back guitar without confusing the mix with complicated elements like vocals. The stomp-along tune “Sharks” offers plenty of post-punk basslines, cymbal crashes, discordant guitar, and screeched vocal. At the restless “Your Biggest Mistake” conclusion, I feel the relief one would imagine feeling at the end of dental surgery.
For an album as forgettable as For Screening Purposes Only I can imagine the scenario that involves a track from this album falling into a music shuffle somewhere, the listener’s curiosity piqued, they seek the rest of the album only to instantly bury it again once they realize the bizarre combination of flavors that make up this bad cocktail recipe.