Hot on the heels of their debut album Already! (which I had the great privilege of reviewing back in March), we have sophomore release 23. This time round there was a bit of a line-up change with drummer Phil Leigh leaving. Producer Richard Formby signed up and took over on bass, while bassist Karl Berlin moved over to drums. The band were rounded off by vocalist Ross Holloway along with guitarists Daren Pickles and Adrian Gans.
There isn’t a lot to say about the cover art, a live picture of the band with Ross featuring prominently in the foreground, perhaps indicative of the band’s desire to focus more on the music than any high art abstract concepts.
Opener I Have The Egg starts abruptly with a loud wail from Ross who riffs away like Damo Suzuki at his maddest. The music has a Jazz improvisational quality and while different to Already! opener 1993, still maintains the same immediacy, setting you up nicely for the rest of the album. Caught In A Memory Of Love starts in a more restrained fashion, the textures and progressive interplay reminding me of Slint’s classic Spiderland record. As highlighted in my Already! review, post-rock hardly whips me into a lather of excitement, however Bushpilot inject an organic and unpretentious edge that keeps you engaged throughout. I am enormously thankful it isn’t interminable like Mogwai’s soundtrack to Douglas Gordon’s insufferably dull Zidane: A21st Century Portrait. This is actually how well post-rock can be done folks.
Here they not only move out of their comfort zone, they positively obliterate it…
Andy Warhol’s Dream is an instrumental and maintains something of a steady motorik beat, the effortless interplay between the musicians acting as a pleasant interlude marking the halfway point of the album. Sharp Fragment is one of the spikier tracks on the album, with a feel more reminiscent of Already!, the riffs reminding me of punk-funkers Gang Of Four. Penultimate track Wild About Nothing – Blakk Flagg features very muted vocals from Ross at the start before the band are left to its own devices. The track at first has a steady krautrockian pulse before the bands more post-hardcore tendencies kick in ala Fugazi with their angular riffing.
It is then that we reach the title track 23 which comes in at just under a mammoth twenty minutes. The band had hitherto only hinted at their willingness to stretch their musical horizons. Here they not only move out of their comfort zone, they positively obliterate it. The music reminds one of a mix of Can and Captain Beefheart, Ross’ vocal ticks, sounding like the bastard offspring of the late, great Don Van Vliet and Damo Suzuki. The improvisation never feels self-indulgent, the sound instead undulates, and much like Slint and Talk Talk, every note played and sung feels essential. Seeing as the band released two records before going their own way, an epic track like this feels like a triumphant way to bow out, a successful parting shot. A middle finger to musical convention.
Compared to their debut, this is a far less immediate effort; it builds on tracks like Black Sun from Already! and goes way out into the ether. If you have the attention span of a fly then this may prove a difficult and restless listen, however for me the musical evolution made complete sense. Much like bands such as Husker Du and Black Flag, who quickly grew out of their hardcore roots into something more expansive, Bushpilot make the transition from noise-rock to experimental krautrock influenced post-rock effortlessly. A fitting conclusion to one of the UK’s most criminally overlooked bands.
Scribed by: Reza Mills