Review - Hannibal Montana - 28-20 EP
Cannibalistic tween-pop star puns aside (I’m sure they’ve heard it all by now), Hannibal Montana’s third release, an EP following on the tails of two full length efforts, is this New York mathy post-rock trio’s most mature collection to date. 28-20 finds the group taking their genre-bending instrumental style to a new level and stands to distinguish them from their peers. What makes this quite possibly HM’s greatest show of force thus far is that the listener is made acutely aware of these seriously good musicians’ ability to make seriously good music, without being so damn serious about it. If you love post-rock but could drop the melodrama, math rock that does more than Tasmanian-devil-spin its way through pull-off riffs, and if you don’t mind the absence of a vocalist where one isn’t necessarily needed, then your 2014 is off to a good start with 28-20. Because whether it is grinning or snarling, this EP has teeth.
No time is wasted in proving as much as the band launches headlong into their first track, which features a distinctly math rock guitar phrase which is refrained and referenced throughout the song’s progression. What really pulls this song across its substantial landscape is the jazz inflected bass, which in these and other quiet moments of repetition takes the helm and changes course with impressive subtlety and fluidity. The guitar becomes more engaged as the tune takes on a danceable beat which HM have been known to showcase without the usual traces of frivolity – Though this proves to be simply preamble for the entrance of an overdriven roar, which confirms comparisons to early Tera Melos and even hints at an affinity for the metallic. The wailing guitar in this moment acts as a vocalist might, generating a sense of desperation and upping the emotional ante. Its refrain and the following buildup are of precise character, like a robot both breaking down and discovering new uses for its fallen parts.
From this aptly placed first track we are told much about what is in store for the remainder of the nineteen-odd minute long jaunt. It may be, as the band claims, a playful record, but is simultaneously a deceptively aggressive venture. Unlike many bands which these opening phrases call to mind, HM is not satisfied with repetition and patchwork patterning alone, but instead show an ability for extended variation, punctuated by the song’s coda, one which characteristically blends a tight and rhythmically challenging progression - one of my favorite bass melodies on the record - with a droning, atmospheric guitar that does not infringe upon or threaten to dampen its value. This moment is telling, granting us an understanding of the band’s position - They could in fact continue on, allow the tune to stretch out further and explore its variations farther, but there is a victory in disallowing that potential pleasure, as that way lies equal potential for tedium.
The second track introduces us to the ebb-and-flow structure of this album. Each lengthy tune is separated from the next with a shorter track. This is a technique that has proven effective for many bands in and outside of HM’s tangential genres. Albums like Deafheaven’s Sunbather have proven this method to be effective for a larger audience, allowing listeners perhaps less in it for the time signature changes and impressive finger work the chance to breathe, and most importantly to reflect. Its as if “A Lie I Used to Tell”positions us on a high crest, and from that vantage we regard the landscape that has just been rather hastily covered, in case that during our hurried progression through it we had neglected to let it affect us while in its immediate presence. This track however is something more than a bridge from song to song, and is marked by a gentle menace of a melody, disassociated from a desperate rhythm left just outside the door.
But the door does open, and in comes careening the album’s centerpiece, “Tales From The Cryptic.” This song contains some of the most impressive moments and lofty ideas HM puts foreword, but is also made problematic by its rather incidental movement from one idea to the next. Most curious is a quasi-reggae section, situated between one of the band’s most all out driving sections and one of its most ethereal and weightless. Still, the lack of a narrative flow - which is well showcased in some other tunes - does stand to underline the band’s contempt for unneeded complacency, something that is ultimately a virtue. The back half of this track is made up of a large section defined by sonorous, pinging guitars that are as satellites in a swampy belt of space, looping through the thickly starlit blackness. The group does return in force for an energetic refrain of the song’s muscular opening, keeping the murky yet luminous middle section contained within higher walls of meaning.
“X” is the antithesis of the first short track, and begins with a all out hard rock riff, played with a tone that would not be out of place on an early QOTSA record, of all places. But HM wastes no time breaking that riff apart after merely one iteration, slashing at what might have been a song of its own until the shreds become the true form.
Keeping in line with the cyclical nature of the EP, “12 Syllables” opens just as dreamy as you like before the group introduces its most patient and toe-tapping repetition yet. The well-wrought mixture of emotive tonality with a lighthearted execution makes this final track the easiest to latch onto and enjoy. You may - like me - bemoan the brevity of this tack, but as a result may - like me - find yourself hard pressed not to go back and listen all the way through, if only to allow this last to color the rest as it has been colored in turn. In this way, 28-20 compliments itself, and what at first perhaps seemed disconnected turns enticing, as the parts prove themselves vital the whole.
The portions of this EP that really shine are those in which HM finds itself with all six feet planted firmly on the ground. Their astral ventures are pleasant, but are as leaps taken on a distant sphere – they may feel like flying, but are always accompanied by the anticipation of touchdown - that moment of attaining a grasp of real purpose as to the meaning of the voyage, and with the most capable Hannibal Montana yet in the driver’s seat, this is surely one worth taking.
Words by Nick Otte | Staff Writer