There's nothing more fulfilling than stumbling upon a gold mine within a silver mine. As I delved into the history of Less Art, I inevitably discovered the group's predecessor, Puig Destroyer, a baseball-themed hardcore act consisting of Thrice drummer Riley Breckenridge, guitarist Jon Howell and bassist Ian Miller of Kowloon Walled City, and vocalist Mike Minnick from Curl Up and Die.
Perhaps the previously used gold mine metaphor isn't completely accurate as I find Less Art to have more musical value, but my initial reaction behind the originality of a baseball theme gimmick held by Puig Destroyer was quite ecstatic. Moving forward, Ed Breckenridge was added as a second guitarist to complete the new band for their debut album Strangled Light released via Gilead Media.
Opening piece "Optimism as Survival" was an instant hook for me as the aggressive vocals were balanced out with Minnick's pure talent for storytelling. Lyrics such as "I'm too curious to kill myself/everything passes, even doubt/what I can't control will keep me down/I use optimism as survival" depicted an extremely open interpretation of the battle against one's suicidal thoughts. While this initial track was perhaps the strongest display of lyrical content, the ideas portrayed throughout Strangled Light were consistently honest and utterly powerful.
In addition to Minnick's raw lyrics, his vocals are equally penetrable. The vocal delivery blends spoken word verses with manic screams. The record's second song, "Diana the Huntress," reveals Super Unison vocalist Meghan O'Neill-Pennie adding shrieks over the contained chaos. Other tracks that feature a peak in vocal excellence would be the range in "Wandering Ghost" and harshness of the title track.
While the vocals and lyrics were the first aspects that caught my attention on these songs, the instrumentalists truly provide something completely new. Avoiding the dry repetition of chuggy riffs, Less Art goes for a more creative approach to post-hardcore somewhat alike Fugazi. While maintaining heaviness, the band's riffs tend to lean towards Slint or early Mogwai allowing each song to sound more dreamy and intelligent than abrasive. This can be shown well on "Mood 7 Mind Destroyer: Guilt" where the band breaks into these siren-like guitar wails halfway through the piece alike to the outro of "Pessimism as Denial" as well.
Lastly, the production team on Strangled Light are debatably just as valuable as the band itself. Scott Evans, frontman for Kowloon Walled City, recorded and mixed the LP with such balls. The drum hits range from muddy to clean with both qualities having a purpose in assisting the song sound fully dynamic. I must also give credit to Brad Boatright, known for his work with Full of Hell and Mutoid Man, for mastering all nine tracks.
To be frank, I could fully understand one's attitude for this album completely differing from mine as the lyrical content was one of the main aspect that gripped me. Nonetheless, I feel as if there are other elements that are very innovative such as the post-rock meets hardcore musical traits. Less Art is far from your average Warped Tour bargain bin act and Strangled Light is as equally beautifully crafted as it is challenging.