Tolerable, Yet Uninteresting
I’ve never liked Animals As Leaders. I guess I should state that upfront, so anyone who wants to disregard my opinion can do so, before they get too invested in reading what I have to say. I really don’t like this whole subculture, the Sumerian records-led teenager brigade of tech-worshippers. Everything about them, from their awful bedroom chugging projects, to their actual enjoyment of memes as cringeworthy and embarrassing as ‘doge’, to the complete obsession with such empty and emotionless music just grates me, to the point where I would actually call them a cult. Like the hippies or goths or hiphopheads of pre-internet times, we now have djentfags, and I long await their demise.
At the forefront of this movement and on the back of every djentfag’s bedroom door are Animals as Leaders, the project of guitarist and “songwriter” Tosin Abasi. I put songwriter in inverted commas for reasons that I will discuss later, since I don’t believe Tosin has written a single actual song in his career. This is their third album, released after a highly regarded debut, and a less popular sophomore, both of which were (in my opinion) compressed and useless pieces of guitar wankery, with absolutely zero sense of time or melody or harmony or even how to construct a guitar tone. Yet they were somehow were lauded by both djentfags and also by people whose opinions I trust and respect. Although they are certainly leaders in the scene, AAL aren’t really a true djent band in the genre definition; only a small portion of their music is dedicated to chuggity chug chug, most of it going towards messy and tuneless riffing, filtered through some ungodly number of compressors, and scattered with some uninspired electronics and even more uninspired ambience.
Although actually, on the whole, The Joy of Motion is Animals As Leaders’ most tolerable release yet. I would hesitate to say ‘best’, because this still ain’t good, but it’s got a significantly larger percentage of moments that I’m not pulling my hair out to or dying of internal bleeding, to the point when I actually enjoy a couple of moments here and there. But on the whole, this is Tosin doing as he has done, genre-wise, and it basically sounds identical to the first two records, with a tiny bit more cohesion and a bit less mess.
“But no!” shout the masses of teenagers in their bedrooms, “this one’s different! There’s bass!”
And yes, there is a bass guitar here, and I’m sure Adam Getgood’s formspring account will be flooded over the next few months with billions of questions about the chain he is using at 3:11 in this song or the Axe FX preset he’s got on at 0:29 in that song, but does the bass really change anything here? No, no it really doesn’t, especially not with that bloody disgusting tone. The Joy of Motion does have some nice grooves every now and then, and the bass is a significant part of this, but it’s not really a major point of difference from the first two albums.
The biggest difference here, one that is also due to Mr Getgood’s involvement, along with his Periphery bandmate Misha Mansoor (who I am less of a fan of), is the production. Sure, the tones here are still pretty awful, the drums are plastic, the bass is way way waaay too compressed (and slapped more often than need be), but at least I can bloody hear them. On the first two albums, the thing that surprised me the most about the people praising them, was the fact that regardless of how technical these riffs are, they’re under a wall of the messiest bloody production this side of Saint Anger and smothered in the highest levels of compression this side of Death Magnetic. No matter how hard I tried to pretend I liked jazz and enjoy Tosin’s use of the D-Locrian mode on that sweep or the triplet run in f#-7-chromatic-minor on that breakdown (which is the only way I can imagine people liking this music), I couldn’t hear anything at all under the waves of spluttering electronic drums and bad atmosphere. But here, I can actually say that I listened to this record three times, and I didn’t have an aneurism.
The production lifts this up tons, but lets be honest, it really just made it a bit clearer, and under the mess that the first two albums were crawling beneath, there isn’t too much here. One of the things I hate about djent, often more than the chugging itself, is the genre’s obsession with ~trendy ambience~. And it’s not as if it’s nice ambience, it is literally the most basic setting on a delay pedal, played with the exact same tone. And with Animals As Leaders being the frontrunners in this scene, you’d imagine them to be a bit more inventive, but no, the useless ambience is here, and in even more abundance than before. It’s not the fact that they are using it that bugs me, it’s the fact that it’s so uninspired, and I have heard it so many times before, combined with the fact that it sounds so mechanical and machine-produced. With the heavy parts being so mechanical themselves, it would be nice if the ambient breaks could have some piano or strings or acoustic guitar or any instrument that has a relatively pleasing timbre.
The heavy parts here aren’t a big improvement, but the production advances definitely mean I can tolerate them a bit more. Some of the riffing here starts to even emulate electronic music, and with the clearer production, actually sounds pretty cool. The very beginning of the album has a very glitchy and quite interesting riff that, while being a complete mess, is made up with some really choppy and nice drumming. I’m not a big fan of the tones, and the organ in the background is laughable, but the drumming here is really something, and would be decent if it weren’t for the terribly robotic kick and snare tones. Solo-wise, this thing is still damn sloppy. I’ve never been a fan of djent soloing, it is so without melody and direction. Call it ‘jazzy’ if you want, and yeah, I’ve always felt the same thing about a lot of jazz soloing to be honest, but to me it’s completely messy.
So what is The Joy of Motion in the end? Is it an improvement? Hell yes it is. Will fans like it? Probably not. Will it go down as significant? Well, no, not really.
Because you see, Tosin does not construct songs, or even melodies or riffs quite a lot of the time, he creates exercises and challenges, the sort of stuff that will fill the next generation of guitar textbooks and inspire legions of 12-year-olds to drop gauge, add a few strings and start chugging. It’s the new jazz, in my view, this uber-technical mess music, pretentious as fuck, great for critical analysis and pretending you have diverse taste, but on the whole meaningless. And I think where The Joy of Motion sits seems a bit vague. There’s enough non-wanky stuff for me to not vomit here, but that will also alienate people who want to come at this album with a pen and notepad. But on the other hand, it has enough messy segments and usual Tosin wank for me to not really want to hear it more than a few times. When I listen to this record, I don’t really enjoy it; I’m more just surprised that I don’t hate it. The Joy of Motion will inevitably be forgotten in the middle ground, wherever Tosin chooses to go next. And honestly, although this hints at an upward trend toward maybe making something I would like, I’m probably not going to bother the man again. He was a great sight to see live and meet, and I appreciate his talent and dedication, but Tosin will always be Tosin, and he will always write this mathematical and mechanical music. And as much as I can tolerate a good deal of The Joy of Motion, I could never really enjoy such soulless music, regardless of any technicality.
Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog