Artist: Orthrelm / Touchdown
Album: Split CD
Label: Troubleman Unlimited
Review date: Sep. 19, 2002
2 x 2 = good
2002 might well be known as the “Year of the Two Person Band.” I won’t name names, but there have been plenty. Bayonne, New Jersey’s Troubleman Unlimited has unleashed a split CD with two two-person terrors recently: Orthrelm and Touchdown, who rock in equally intense if different ways.
Orthrelm. Guitar and bass, Brooklyn, NY via Washington, DC. What kind of name is that? Some of their other albums have names like Iorxhscimtor and Asristir Veildroixe. They sound like names found in an ancient Roman burial grounds, or perhaps Dungeons and Dragons characters. Or maybe some ridiculous joke name you’d invent while stoned. Altered states provide an excellent frame for describing the music of Orthrelm. What first comes to mind is a hung-over, withdraw-ridden Steve Vai or Joe Satriani. The ridiculous speed and skill are evident, but Orthrelm add a heavy dose of grumpy “fuck you” punk aggression. Mick Barr’s guitar sounds are super distorted – in an “I-can-see-the-whites-of-the-eyes”, over-the-top-manic sort of way. Pure shredding. His precision and technical mastery are astounding. Josh Blair’s drums are pure finesse as they pulse and flail in line with the guitar destructive motifs. Orthrelm contribute the first four songs of this split and totally destroy. The “songs” (none are named) range from 1 to 4 minutes in length and sound like miniature spazz symphonies. Until I read the press release I couldn’t tell if the songs were on-the-spot improv or ridiculous measured out compositions. It turns out that the latter is the case, which seems more impressive. Live, Barr and Blair are remarkably still and focused. They get up on stage, play a non-stop half hour set and then leave. Despite their sheer technical ridiculousness and plain-faced posture Orthrelm still manage to rock, hard. It’s easiest to describe their music as an unsolvable mathematical theorem – nearly impossible to comprehend, yet beautiful and compelling all the same.
Touchdown. Bass and Drums. Brooklyn, NY. With messy, flopping bass lines and a steady sporadic banging on the toms, Touchdown are the musical equivalent of stumbling around drunk. They take a basic melodic pattern and push it in all directions at once – faster, slower, two steps higher, two lower until they return to the theme and the whole song falls apart. Emily Powers’ bass lines are intricate and have an almost call-and-response quality – she states themes and responds to them, often at the same time. Her clean tone serves to accentuate each note and her technical precision is often betrayed by the hypnotic melodies she busts out (sometimes you might think there are two people playing bass.) Nate Smith’s drums provide a heavy, solid background and his patterns perfectly mimic and highlight the tickling bass riffs. Touchdown showcase a playful dynamic on this recording – the two players compliment each other perfectly and it never sounds as if one instrument takes precedence over another. Listening to the interplay you can hear that the two are having great fun and it’s refreshing that this tone comes across on the recording.
The combined power of the Orthrelm / Touchdown split is a reminder that the two-person group can push the envelope further than you might think. Troubleman Unlimited has consistently released similarly fulfilling projects and should be lauded for masterminding this coupling. There’s still more room to explore the outer-reaches of the two-seater discipline and you can bet that these two bands and T.M.U. will lead the way. Watch out!
By Marc Gilman