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Magnet Animals – Butterfly Killer – RareNoise

Willfully risk-taking music from the RareNoise label.

Magnet Animals – Butterfly Killer [TrackList follows] RareNoise RNR063, 49:35 [5/20/16] ***1/2:

(Todd Clouser – guitar, vocals; Eyal Maoz – guitar; Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz – bass; Jorge Servin – drums)

Magnet Animals live up to their name. On the foursome’s debut, the 49-minute Butterfly Killer, the band can be polarizing; can attract and repel; can be sonically beastly; and can be as potent as a large magnetic force. Magnet Animals is the brainchild of guitarist/vocalist Todd Clouser, whose background includes the New York City downtown jazz/skronk scene. It’s there he met guitarist Eyal Maoz (who has worked with John Zorn and released solo albums on Zorn’s Tzadik label). Clouser also found his bassist, Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, in the same NYC community.  Clouser and Blumenkranz met at a John Lurie tribute show. Rounding out the group is drummer Jorge Servin. Clouser discovered Servin in Clouser’s new home, Mexico City. Butterfly Killer has been issued as a digital download, as a vinyl LP, and on compact disc. This review refers to the CD configuration.

Over the course of ten Clouser originals, Magnet Animals oscillate through a myriad of auditory approaches, and like other performers on the adventurous RareNoise imprint, the four musicians are typically outside the norm. There are instrumental barrages such as the jarring opener, “Headphone Girls,” where loud twinned guitars shred over a menacing bass riff and Servin’s skewed-funk backbeat. There are some distorted vocals here and there, but mostly “Headphone Girls” is rock-encrusted music with elements of metal, hard rock and thickened electric blues. The funk goes from furtive to the forefront on “Martha Fever,” which also contains some of Clouser’s incantatory vocalizing, which is utilized as part of the instrumental fervor rather than as a way to present lyrics. It’s clear what Clouser has done; he’s slipped his voice into the tune’s cracks in post-production, as an extra coloring to the turmoil. Maoz and Clouser’s assertive guitars will probably make some think of fellow RareNoise label mate Joe Morris, the pioneering Sonny Sharrock or early material from Sonic Youth. The briefer “Baby Gods” has a similar scheme, with a more pronounced Thurston Moore/Lee Ranaldo guitar aesthetic. The aggressiveness escalates on the heavy-slanted title track, which is rock through and through…there’s improvisation to be sure, but no one will mistake this for jazz fusion, and the blistering tonality will catch the attention of Joe Satriani or Metallica admirers rather than modern jazz listeners.

There are other various influences which wind through this album. Old Delta blues gets a reconstructed spin through the 8:34 “I Give Up and Love Somebody.” The tempo is frequently slower and flits at times with a 4/4 count; Clouser persistently chants the title words like Skip James or Charley Patton slicing a blues riff beneath a single, repeating phrase. Although the lengthy piece builds up, the arrangement always ebbs back down and the guitars (which use plenty of reverb) constantly return to a blues theme. Spoken word artists and authors have inspired other tracks. During the nearly eight-minute cut, “Atayde,” Clouser talks atop a strummed, easygoing cadence, with imagery-laced prose which seems spontaneous and offhand. Writer and provocateur William S. Burroughs is the main motivation behind “Bill Borroughs” [which seems deliberately misspelled]. There is a calmer momentum on this tune, and a disquieting undercurrent, as Clouser whisper-speaks lines either from Burroughs or closely akin to Burroughs. Clouser spouts out religious venom during “Little John the Liar,” which marries a Led Zeppelin-like, classic-rock stance with the Dream Syndicate’s post-psychedelia. Clouser admits he conceived a character to gush out his spiteful lyrics, but that doesn’t downplay the vented acrimony. Certainly the record’s unexpected twist is the final number, the 80’s-tinted “Igual, Pero Peor” [which translates from Spanish to English as “Same but worse”]. It starts with a pop-synth keyboard sound (which was apparently created by Maoz on guitar), and then moves into the solidly-riffing guitar display which permeates the other tunes, while Clouser continually invokes “Same but a little worse” over and over. Magnet Animals’ Butterfly Killer is not for all tastes. The hard rock attitude will turn off jazz/improvisational fans; the experimental edges may only appeal to those who appreciate outsiders like the Mars Volta or Mr. Bungle; and the incessant spoken word and cyclic lyrics also sometimes disrupt the instrumental flow of some songs.

TrackList: Headphone Girls; Atayde; Martha Fever; Baby Gods; Butterfly Killer; I Give Up and Love Somebody; State of My Face; Bill Borroughs; Little John the Liar; Igual, Pero Peor.

—Doug Simpson

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