Album review: Rolo Tomassi – ‘Cosmology’ (Hassle)

Violent howls and sweet screams as the Spence siblings and gang settle in to the unique sound they call home

A lot of the time, logic has no place in music, and an argument could be made for [a]Rolo Tomassi[/a] to be cited as the least logical band to make a play for the mainstream in recent times. Their apparently random blasts of alternately thick noise and shrill fast-fingered guitar blips; a frontwoman who can smile as sweetly as
she can howl violently; a producer ([a]Diplo[/a]) best-known for his work with blog-buzzers rather than mosh-pitters: all ammunition for those who claim they’re just a bunch of technically minded punk-terrorists out to shock. But as the brilliant [b]‘Cosmology’[/b] shows, there’s actually a coherent plan. Having grown up in a time when the outer limits of music have never been so readily available, it makes sense for them to combine influences from [a]Refused[/a] to [a]Missy Elliott[/a] because they’re both just a MySpace click away; it makes sense for Eva Spence to shock morons who think she should stand still and twang a bass string now and then because in the hardcore scene girls and boys have always been equal; it makes sense for Diplo to be involved because they’re unlike anyone he’s ever worked with and that’s his modus operandi.

But behind simple logic lurks a ferocious drive to experiment. They can flick from [b]‘Party Wounds’[/b]’ caustic satire to the frayed garage-punk of [b]‘Unromance’[/b] without losing their musical thread. Within the latter song there’s other bands’ entire careers worth of ideas just in the bridge. [b]‘Agamemnon’[/a] lets James Spence’s keyboard spin tales of dread over a chunky riff, while Eva’s growl of “[i]You are NULL and VOID![/i]” turns [b]‘Tongue-In-Chic’[/b] from a simple rock song into a warning. Of course, the expansive, melodic mid-section is enough of a curveball that it’ll make the majority of listeners think they’ve moved onto a different song, but that’s symptomatic of [b]‘Cosmology’[/b] as a whole – after spinning it from start to finish it comes as a genuine surprise to learn there’s only 10 tracks on it.

But where their debut ‘Hysterics’ was handicapped by the relentless shock-tactics the band employed, [b]‘Cosmology’[/b] uses Rolo’s newest weapons – restraint and patience – to quite brilliant effect. Sure, [b]‘House House Casanova’[/b] sits proud as a demonstration of Joe Nicholson’s terrifying guitar skills (as a young musician his ability as both a player and songwriter is unbelievable), and is good in a ‘shit the bed, this rocks’ kind of way, but Rolo got that side of them out the way two years ago. Subsequently, what would have been a stand-out three years ago is now a pleasing diversion set amid the controlled chaos.

Why? Because they’ve got better: not simply as a progressive hardcore outfit, but as a band trying to work out how to shoe-horn all the weird stuff they listen to into a coherent whole. The title track in particular is a beautiful display of a band looking for a certain sound, but even that changes from second to second – it’s calm, confident and infinitely more palatable than anything they’ve ever done before, and throughout the course of its seven wonderful minutes it’s the first time Rolo have ever really felt at ease. As with the similarly melodic [b]‘Kasia’[/b], which sits at the album’s centre like a beating heart, they’re spiralling off into unknown territory by being the precise opposite of everything that their reputation dictates. And rather than a try-hard ‘hope you like our new direction’ folly, it confirms they can do whatever they want and pretty much get away with it. Not because we give them the benefit of the doubt as a cool band, but because they’re actually that good.

So, for the purely logical among you, it’s only right to give a band this fearless, this adept and this imaginative your time – hell, if they attracted the attention of a dude who’s got MIA on speed-dial then it’s a bit of a bold move to sack them off. For everyone else: do you want to be enthralled and dumbfounded by music so brilliant it genuinely defies categorisation? Study ‘Cosmology’ and you will be.

[b]Rob Parker[/b]

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