Robocobra Quartet - Music for all Occasions

The Quietus

With fourteen interchangeable members Robocobra Quartet breach convention not simply in the nominal sense. Since forming in Belfast’s Sonic Arts Research Centre back in 2014, their cunning marriage of jazz, spoken word, punk and avant-garde noise has thrown the cat amongst sleepier circles at home, setting them apart as an act intent on mining meaning from hard-won scope and purview. Led by drummer, vocalist and de facto frontman Chris Ryan, their debut album, Music For All Occasions, is a carefully-crafted release that presents one’s thinly-veiled personal disquiet as a single prism beam bounding from the much bigger picture.

Almost symphonic in its poise and flow, Music For All Occasions is a record where even small details are rendered with precision – almost nothing, it seems, is kneejerk; the tangents feel intended. With slick sax and iterative webs of bass and drums wedding to form a strong core throughout, Ryan’s words offer up a narrative that blurs musing doubt, flickers of dead conversation and the dregs of self-conscious recall in masterful fashion. Take opener and lead single ‘Correct’, a track touching on the irreducible triviality of personal endeavor or ‘You’ll Shrug’, an early highlight bowing out in an impressionistic cloud of Mingusesque noise: in much the same way Julia Holter re-frames Woolf’s “incessant shower of innumerable atoms” Ryan’s self-referential scattergraph takes the choking insignificance of even the most throwaway encounter and – just as Enablers’ Pete Simonelli fixates over the madness of nameless characters of the night – sets it all free through song.

Musically, it’s controlled experimentation and intuitive economy that underpins the orchestrated praxis: from flurrying jolts of brass that run the gamut from wispy to rapt and bobbing rhythms that unfurl beyond the realm of second-guessing to metrical bass lines that rarely take the easy way out, these nine compositions triumph as a whole by resisting the descent into a blustering miasma of sound each time. From two-minute anti-mantra ‘Find X’ (“find yourself saying the same thing…”) to ‘Nice Life’, a peak about not being able to get out of bed in the morning (“Chris won't be seeing anyone today, he feels it’s better this way”) Ryan commands more by way of hinting ciphers than outright obscurism, centered above a sound that only imposes itself when due. Composure here is tantamount to cutting loose.

But it’s closer ‘Album of the Year’ that sees the modus operandi of the self-released Music For All Occasions as a record – rather than Robocobra Quartet as a live proposition – hit home. Much like Donny McCaslin Quartet’s work on the more downcast moments on Bowie’s Blackstar, its subdued meditation on “that” feeling of disassociation at the tail-end of the year is imbued with a taut musicality – quivering clarinet, chromatic bass inversions, extended piano chords – that knows the inherent value in quietude and pace. With Ryan audibly crying on the track, the unbearable shiteness of being is laid bare: where the severity of the unsaid thing holds its own elsewhere, a hard dose of the realest of real shit does wonders here.

Whilst it feels much more like a checkpoint rather than a breathless culmination of the band’s burgeoning trajectory over the last three years, the ambition of Music For All Occasions is concurrently – and fully – realised in its vision and restraint. A record that neither overstays its welcome nor veers into wandering overdulgence, it stands up as the Irish album of 2016, at the very least. Here’s to more.

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Tue Jan 10 12:43:32 GMT 2017

Drowned In Sound 80

A hardcore punk band, prone to bouts of improv, fronted by a yowling drummer, that cites classical music as an influence, and utilises sax in entirely unfriendly manners. There's not a bit of 14-member, variable-piece Robocobra Quartet that isn't absolutely, willingly fucking contrary.

It all works, mind, settling at a sedate, Belfast-accented jazzy noise that's not without its charm, emerging as it does from the insanely fertile ground of Northern Ireland's independent music community. Beginning as graduates of Belfast's Sonic Arts Research Centre, the band debuted in 2014, with a constantly shifting live line-up from among its members, hitting Brilliant Corners and Electric Picnic festivals in the process, as well as releasing a limited 7-inch via Northern stable Smalltown America.

There's not much fucking around to be had across the nine tracks on the band's debut LP, Music for All Occasions, as best exemplified by the looping and concentrated bassline in 'Nice Life', the centre of a groove around which everything else rotates. Album opener and leadoff 'Correct' starts as the band means to go on, an oddly-timed bit of post-hardcore that owes as much to Shellac's dour disposition as to their jazz predecessors, heading briefly into Stoogesy sax wigout territory.

Spoken-word has also pockmarked the discussion of the band's sonics, and emerges here less as a vocal tool, and more as a part of the overall concept – 'Problem Solver' acting as a let-up, a pause for thought amid all the brow-furrowing before heading into sparsely-realised Our Very Own Version of November Rain. 'Find X', though, is where the band hits their stride boldly, like Fugazi-meets-Mingus in an near-empty venue, rain cascading down the windows outside, with all of the lofty expectations such a comparison connotes.

Throughout the album is the constant feeling of a band approaching every aspect of itself with precisely fuck-all nonsense or pretension about what it's doing, and yet everything is purposeful and concentrated, as best seen in stark, snarkily-titled album-closer 'Album of the Year'. Neither is that to say there aren't moments of bombast: 'Dirge for Self' is a disgustingly assured, cocky, striding affair, while 'Straight Lines' diverges in vaguely psychey, reverby territory in brief glimpses.

There's possibly not much more to be said on the record on its own – it seems to your writer to be as much an emphatic statement of intent going forward as a standalone artistic endeavour in its own right. Sparing without being subdued, distrustful without veering into paranoia, dour without losing focus or fire. It bodes well for the collective.


Tue Nov 22 09:01:08 GMT 2016