[14 July 2006]
I shot the Albatross
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
An Albatross is in the business of genre destruction. Take soul music, destroy it. Take jazz, destroy it. Take punk, destroy it. Take psychedelic music, destroy it. And during that destruction, then within the restructuring process, the band brings together a monster that bares little resemblance to its parts.
Unlike Coleridge’s albatross, the band does not lead the listener into the fog, but rather it opens up the seas and clears the way for other bands to break every genre stereotype. In hardcore this is especially difficult to do, as it’s a time where most hardcore bands are either metal influenced—like As I Lay Dying or Norma Jean, or tough-guy influenced like Hatebreed and Terror.
But An Albatross does not succumb to trends or much direct influence at all. It dismisses convention while still understanding the core of what hardcore and punk music stands for. And in this, without any qualifications, An Albatross is doing for hardcore something close to what Ornette Coleman did for jazz.
The band is a true and brilliant psychedelic circus of spazz. The new album, Blessphemy (of the Peace-Beast Feastgiver and the Bear Warp Kumite), its third proper recording, is an aural assault that gives back. It’s grindcore with a conscience and with musicianship. It is the perfect mix of technical ability and noisy risks, and is truly like nothing else in music right now. Even though the record is sheer ritualistic brilliance, An Albatross is a band that thrives on stage. The music is meant to be a live multimedia experience… it’s a musical, spiritual, artistic dance revolution.
The band was formed in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1999, making a name by playing shows in its hometown and in nearby Philadelphia (both towns with amazing hardcore scenes). The band’s following really came from the absolute circus that is its live show. The first LP was Eat Lightning, Shit Thunder in 2000 on Bloodlink Records. Then the band signed to Ace Fu records in 2003 and released We Are the Lazer Viking.
An Albatross is a self-proclaimed brigade of psychodelevangelist love soldiers inciting a feel-good riot. They blow up the notion of categorization completely. You can hear the hippie, acid-freak, dream-like storyland influence of bands from Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd to the Birds, but mixed with the experimentation of noise bands like Lightning Bolt and Boredoms. Then there is the funk influence of Sly and the Family Stone, the punk rock mayhem of the Stooges and MC5, the blues inflections of Ten Years After. And Zappa… they love their Zappa. It doesn’t sound anything like the aforementioned bands, but An Albatross takes a bit of rock history from all of them. (Though, if you were to ask them, the members of the band would actually list Green pleasures and the Devil himself, alongside Total Revolution based on love, LSD and Be-ins as their main influences.)
What makes An Albatross different from most psychedelic bands is that most of its tracks clock in under two minutes. There is no monotonous droning or annoying jamming… these acid trips are fueled with cocaine intensity. The freak-outs are crazy dance breaks, not mind-numbing drum circles. And what separates it from most grindcore acts is the absolute absurdist integrity. I’m not talking about classical integrity, but the same acid driven integrity that made Piper at the Gates of Dawn (the only Floyd album that’s worth a damn) amazing. There’s a certain surreal notion to An Albatross’s new record that has no respect for genre, while still understanding the places from which the group has come. Most grindcore bands, with a few noticeable exceptions are just bursts of shock and noise. And, oddly enough, this spastic, drug-driven hardcore record is incredibly soulful. It’s not a sonically defined kind of soul though; there is something so amazingly deep and gorgeous in its absolute negation of inhibition. It’s the gospel music of the natural space warrior; it’s a soulfulness that seeps out through the band; it’s a soulfulness that is in the air when you see the band live, when the choir and the congregation merge to be one deep, organic being. Within the violent dogfight is something delicate and religious.
At its worst, the band is a classic cult ritual (the appropriation of popular cult images and words rivals Sonic Youth’s pop art takeover of Manson and Madonna). At its best, when the band performs live in all of its mind blowing glory, An Albatross is something close to art (if pop art is, essentially, commenting on popular notions, An Albatross takes it a step further an becomes the pop cult when they put on a live show, crossing out and corroding every boundary between the consumer of the culture and the creator).