Instrumental rock hit its peak in the mid- to late '90s, ranging from the post-rock jazz of bands like Tortoise to the mind-bending guitar theatrics of acts like Don Caballero. Countless numbers of bands employed the instrumental shtick, but few were inventive enough to outlast the fad.
Hailing from New York City, Darediablo offer up 11 tracks of instrumental rock on their fourth full length, Feeding Frenzy. Instead of a bassist, Darediablo opt for a keyboardist who employs a Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes to fill out their sound. As intriguing as this sounds, Feeding Frenzy is an ably and enthusiastically played effort that never quite fights off the feeling that it arrived a day late and a dollar short.
The problem Darediablo has lies in the simply uninspired compositions. Jake Garcia's guitar playing is never more than perfunctory, delivering well executed, if somewhat dry rock riffs. The rest of the band, following Garcia's penned rock numbers, are left to fill the spaces in a dull, paint-by-numbers fashion. Frustratingly, keyboardist Matt Holford is resigned to playing the "bass" portion of each song and a truly great opportunity for some inventive songwriting and musicianship is lost.
When I first threw on Feeding Frenzy, it took me by surprise. Taking his sonic cues from Steve Albini, Garcia's guitar is chunky, treble-y, dry and crackles with intensity. The drums quickly kick in, with a thundering presence followed by the keyboard, whose flourishes round out the sound. What begins with excitement quickly turns into a thirty-five minute trek through instrumental FM radio rock that is begging for a singer to come and howl along. While superbly played, Darediablo's music is not interesting enough to stand on its own.
Trans Am, who've been in the instrumental rock game for a few years (though their last two albums Futureworld and TA flirted with the addition of vocals) are, like Darediablo, influenced heavily by classic rock. However, what makes Trans Am one of the genre's top acts is their pure inventiveness. The keyboards don't merely ape bass lines, but add an entire other dimension to the songs. The drummer comes up with beats that you swear must have been programmed into a drum machine. It's this lack of creativity that makes Feeding Frenzy such an energetic bore.
Darediablo are by no means an awful band, but they have arrived in the wake of some truly great instrumental rock. Perhaps if this album first arrived at the beginning of the trend's wave it may have sounded fresher, or at the very least, intriguing. Unfortunately for Darediablo, they find themselves entering the game a little too late, and facing some well-seasoned veterans.
Jake Garcia and his bandmates need to reassess their musical vision. They are all capable musicians, but they need to bring more to the table if they are looking to hold the attention of instrumental music fans. If Darediablo are reading this, I have the following the advice: Let the keyboardist drive some of the songs; don't be afraid to change tempos mid-song and dump conventional verse/chorus/verse song structures.
Or, continue writing the songs you're writing, and get a singer.