Active now for close to 14 years, Boston band Neptune has crafted not only a formidable array of releases that document their squalling, post-industrial noise punk, but an awesome arsenal of home-made instruments they they’ve used to etch each and every one of their tracks. Though beginning life as the extension of a sculpture project by Jason Sanford, the band has shunned the austerity of art galleries in favor of cranking out high-octane, oft-visceral exercises in disruption.
Their discography stretches to around 20 releases, but Gong Lake, their debut for Table of the Elements’ Radium imprint, is the first to be widely available outside of Neptune’s own merch table. Five full-lengths in now, and the band is nothing if not tightly wound – no hesitation, no faulty missteps. As such, Gong Lake presents a solid half an hour’s worth of the trio’s finely detailed improvisations and galloping, percussive punk, bounding from the queasy loops and pounding drums of “Grey Shadows” to the more carefully considered and ominous oscillations of “Black Tide.”
While Neptune’s penchant for homemade instruments is well known, they wisely avoid reducing their work-shopped creations to kitsch levels. Instead, they spend the whole of Gong Lake blending a number of different homemade synths and effects boxes with more tradition drums and baritone guitars. The results are slyly alien, invoking a creeping sense of the bizarre and unfamiliar that’s effortlessly meshed with exceedingly familiar rock dynamics. Thus, while “Paris Green” may start with commonplace guitar strums, it quickly gives way to the chunky low-end of a synth of unknown provenance, one that battles for space with a rising tide of screeching oscillators. Elsewhere, “Yellow River” ricochets with the effected sounds of a mutated thumb piano, opening up spaces for echoing synths to shoot past the percussion’s insistent rhythms.
As much as a seemingly unkempt aggression is Neptune’s hallmark throughout Gong Lake’s 10 tracks, these three are no ordinary brutes. Time and again, their dedication to expanding a familiar rock lexicon with instruments of their own creation calls to mind the work of folks like This Heat. Much like those Brits attempted the use the basic palette of punk rock as a spring board for deeper experimentation, so too does Neptune work a similar trick, obliterating the familiar structures of rock and punk with otherworldly timbres and tones that are wholly of their own design.
By Michael Crumsho