12/5/2008 - Review by: Etiam
On their debut LP, 'Samus Octology', the "ancestrally diverse individuals" of Irepress present a "musical conversation" that they intend to "surpass the need for vocal interruption," (Translation Loss press material). It almost goes without saying that this occurs at "EPIC proportions." From this unsubtle language, it's obvious that iconoclasm and a widespread reputation are other goals of this instrumental outfit. They seek to be 'unclassifiable', 'forward-thinking', 'beyond the constraints of genres', and so forth. Indeed, at first blush, Irepress do muster up a certain mystery, or at least complexity, that defies simple description.
Sometimes, though, the easiest way to describe a thing is to step back from fine details. Compelling though the nitty-gritty of 'Samus Octology' may be, two simple points will suffice to portray their sound: first, that Irepress hail from Boston, MA; second, that Forbes Graham is a guest on the album's 9-minute closer. Irepress laid bare. (Graham is a former member of Kayo Dot, who also make their hometown in Boston. That band evolved from Maudlin of the Well and is led by the art/prog/rock/brainiac Toby Driver.)) Or almost bare. Though similar to Driver's projects, Irepress pursue and realize a different MO. For, unlike MOTW or Kayo Dot--especially the latter--Irepress have cited defined melody as a priority and favor clear motifs over sprawling development, which makes their compositions accessible from the outset.
Illustrating this approach is the lengthy but cleanly orchestrated 'Pah No'. After threatening to drown in the grand tremolo melodies of soundscape bands aplenty (as do most other tracks on the album, admittedly) 'Pah No' saves itself at the critical turn with cadenzas of surprising brevity and a swift denouement. Ushered in without respite is 'Samus', which opens with a quiet urgency that is an effective counterpoint to its rather more deliberate predecessor. This example also shows how aware Irepress are of album dynamics as opposed to just single-song dynamics, and how they have have structured 'Samus Octology' accordingly. Though no track is a throwaway, each having a singular character, the listener's focus is decidedly drawn to the full 45-minute, eight-track experience. Hence the name.
Although a synthesizer is featured on the album, next to the bass it is the least featured instrument and makes an almost subconscious impact. The indisputable focus of 'Samus Octology' is guitar-work of Jon DiNapoli and Bret Silverberg, both of whom have a traditional hand for prog guitarists. That is to say, the album features relatively little in the way of extreme alternate tunings, exotic scales, excessive tapping or shredding, et cetera. Instead, Irepress are content to use power chords, picks, and even some good old-fashioned aeolian to conduct their "conversation".
With that said, 'Samus Octology' is still an experimental venture, and a fairly ambitious one for its shifting meters, occasional modality, and grand-scale composition that neither abuses nor entirely eschews a verse/chorus template. It's questionable whether this can be called metal, though. The very present and vigorous drums come closest to a consistently metal aesthetic, followed by the staccato guitar chug, which is a tool too crude and too frequently invoked to satisfy in this context. Otherwise, Irepress's heaviness comes from a raw guitar distortion and performance attack, while the remainder of their sound falls along the reverberating lines of art rock. This study in contrast relates directly back to Irepress's core tenet--diversity--and supports their foremost attribute--melody--for the majority of 'Samus Octology'. When Irepress can fully join these two themes and sustain its energy for an LP's full duration, then Mr. Driver will have his most serious competition in years.
(Per usual, Translation Loss are spot on with their niche positioning, so those not helped by the Toby Driver reference may get a vague idea of Irepress from their guideposts of Isis, Don Caballero, Explosions in the Sky, and the Deftones.)
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