A mere three years since emerging from their layer in Austin, Texas with a demo, noise rock threesome Exhalants have come on leaps and bounds in a relatively short space of time. With Atonement, their sophomore full length, provides a vivid snapshot of a band who’ve taken their grizzled musical roots and cultivated them into something far more distinctive.
Much of the musical conceit of the (admittedly fairly loose) genre the band have been tagged with is based around a sense of brutality, a punishing barrage of riffs and rhythm. While Exhalants are perfectly capable of kicking out the pathologically tight jackhammer jams on a song like, the aptly named Bang, there’s so much more going on in terms of musicality and emotional depth. Indeed the ‘power’ element of their power trio approach comes from their sense of restraint and ability to hold back when necessary. There’s a dynamic intelligence that surpasses the usual basic understanding that a distortion pedal goes on and off. The weight of this music comes often from its mood rather than how rough it is.
Think about the word Atonement, about the sense of regret, or perhaps even grief, that motivates one to make amends – it’s a telling title for an album that, even at its most pummeling moments, has a sense of melancholy to it. There’s plenty of heft and dirt in the mix but just as much introspection and brightness. It’s there from the onset when opener The Thorn You Carry In Yr Side changes up the mood from lumbering, to almost pretty, within the first couple of chords. It’s there in End Scenes where an insistent tension threatens to – but doesn’t quite – explode fully, like an argument threatening to happen that leaves you full of rage within, but is never fully expressed. I can’t tell you with a great deal of certainty what exactly vocalist Steve is yelling about, but the music alone does a damn fine job of conveying anxiety.
Each member locks in with the others, but at the same time have their own space in the music, making it a whole lot less claustrophobic than some of their peers. And in spite of the harshness there’s serious song writing nous – Blackened is a microcosm of moods all at once, if you look under the dirt, it has a surprisingly breezy and melodic main riff married to some tumbling drumming. It’s as catchy as it is caustic, as is the case with much of the album.
they’ve learned how to control their temper, when to let it out, when to let it simmer…
There’s very much an autumnal feel to much of Atonement, both brightness and introspection that make it feel like the perfect headphone soundtrack to walking off a bad mood in the woods. The fact that some of the quieter moments are amongst the most intense is no accident. Definitions foresakes much of the distortion and yelling for a calmer approach that never loses that underlying saudade. Epic closer Lake Song sees the band at their most pensive, unwinding over nine minutes and coloured with trumpets and cello.
They’re not entirely free of their influences, as you might expect given the ‘noise rock’ description. Certainly fans of their neighbours Cherubs will find much to enjoy and the mid album duo of Richard into Crucifix (perhaps the album’s heaviest moment if that’s what you’re looking for) have a distinct whiff of Albini about them – but even amongst these familiarities, their own personality finds a way to get through. There’s also a lot more jangle, for want of a better word, in the guitars that really help open up their sound.
Atonement is a band reaching a particular stage of maturity without letting go of their more feral side. Instead they’ve learned how to control their temper, when to let it out, when to let it simmer. Exhalants have provided an emotional weight that transcends their primitive origins on Atonement, portraying a kind of seasonal affective disorder on record that hits right in the heart, as well as the gut.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes