Landowner‘s second LP, Consultant, is a beautiful bundle of chewed-raw nerves, with intensely geometric post-punk motifs providing the razor to scrape back and forth over them. Vocalist Dan Shaw fronts the western Massachusetts quintet, bizarrely obsessed with cleanliness, mechanics, and symmetry, but instead blurts out lyrics about residential development, institutional racism, and testosterone-fueled idiocy like an obsessed D. Boon or maybe even Jello Biafra. Shaw writes the highly cogent material. The whole band, in turn, sound like a wondrous idea that somehow was birthed in form. Guitars and bass feature unblemished, undistorted lines and spartan percussion, all played with tinny precision but with hardcore intent. On Consultant, much like their debut, 2018’s Blatant, Landowner drive up the mortgage price in the ambition department and, somehow, miraculously, manages to close the deal.
Like Blatant, there’s an amazing intentionality to the proceedings, and that, not surprisingly, is no accident. Shaw is a city planner by trade and approaches music like an architect or an engineer faced with an unsculpted, virgin block – only the necessary elements and no more are needed to hold together his sound-grids. The sound, which is rattly and inherently gets under your skin, is a kind of antithesis to maximalism, with two guitars skittering in mathematical lockstep over plucky bass and a kit that rarely employs much more than a kick-drum, snare, and hi-hat. On a song like the infectious opener, “Victim of Redlining”, the conceit works and then some, with the Bizarro-Krautrock repetitions eliciting a wondrous sonic tension, like the knot of a rope being pulled ever tighter. Shaw plays on this evident tone by barking his insightful asides in the first bars of each measure, making the song’s edges feel clipped, a canny beat-boxing move.
Elsewhere, Landowner flirt with different colors. “Extreme Youth” toys like a cat swimming in catnip with post-punk punchiness, minus the punch but with all the passion. On “Being Told You’re Wrong”, a treatise seemingly about toxic masculinity, the rhythms are lop-sided and uneven, with a faux-Western guitar bop leading into what, if it were distorted, would be an epic grind. Instead, played and recorded super clean and super tight, it sounds like gritting teeth, and it’s done to terrific effect. “Stone Path” is a rapid-fire number that miraculously never loses sight of its fixation on restraint. Then, appropriately, there’s a song called “Restraint” – saw that one coming – which features a wonderfully bubbly and burbling little bass motif from Josh Owsley over the familiar skitter-scatter. It sounds like Devo playing Faustian punk – or maybe early Big Boys without as much of the self-awareness and sass.
Now, let’s get to some narrative context. When Shaw moved back to his native Massachusetts after five years working in a Seattle “technocracy” (band’s words), he inaugurated the Lawnowner experiment with a cassette release that offered click-clack drum-machine tracks and Mondrian-typeset guitar and bass: all patterns, with the power and the color cooked in before the presentation. It was, he says in press materials, “as if an abrasively clean band were reading the sheet music of hardcore songs”. “The creative formula of the band is that it’s supposed to be portable, lightweight, dinky,” Shaw says. “The band is formulaic by my own invention. I plug in, I write some riffs, and it sounds like Landowner instantly.”
The record is not a distant cousin — or distant in any way — to Blatant, which was born alongside Chicago’s Born Yesterday Records some two years ago. The Born Yesterday implications are important. In addition to releasing this LP, the label put out Stuck’s latest, a great LP that toys with similar bombast and angularity. Consultant, if anything, is a continuation of that line of thinking. Appropriately, it ends with another welcome ellipsis, the songs stalling rather than drawing to a faux-dramatic curtain-closer. We only can hope Landowner’s third LP proper continues to live up to the cryptic OCD-post-punk the quintet has calculated thus far.