Album Review: Kogumaza

So, I’ve started doing the occasional album review for The Quietus. I’ve written on epic45’s Weathering and Evangelista’s In Animal Tongue so far, and I also wrote on Kogumaza’s self-titled debut album. This wasn’t published though, probably because it came out in May and I didn’t get round to writing about it ’til September. Or because they didn’t like my review. Either way, I thought I’d pop it up here.

The album was released by the consistently excellent Low Point, and can be streamed just here:

In his fabled 1994 essay ‘Post-Rock’, Simon Reynolds argued that the titular movement (or tendency, perhaps) was about ‘using rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, using guitars as facilitators of timbres and textures rather than riffs and powerchords’. It was a label to be applied to an unashamedly forward looking group of bands who drew on the developments of dub and electronic dance music, and who were united not so much by a sound as by an eagerness to embrace new sonic possibilities.

The name stuck but the definition didn’t. For better or for worse, most bands who’ve come to be labelled post-rock augment their music with non-rock instrumentation (or eschew traditional rock instrumentation almost entirely), or rely heavily on riffs; and a term that once seemed pregnant with futurist possibility is now largely shorthand for a conservativism that displays little sonic imagination beyond Stepping On The Distortion Pedal. So I doubt Nottingham’s Kogumaza would thank me for bringing up the term in relation to their debut album, but cast off these colloquial aspersions and this is a record that brings to mind the sense of possibility that accompanied Reynolds’ original use of the term.

Despite their fairly standard rock set up (two guitars and a drum kit), Kogumaza delve beyond generic conventions to sculpt sound quite beautifully, and it’s worth noting that they consider soundman Mark Spivey to be a fourth member of the band, breaking with rockist assumptions about what it means to be a musician. This illuminating interview reveals how- inspired by dub soundsystems- he uses tape delays to modify their live sound, and his contribution is particularly important on record where the greater possibilities of the studio allow all kinds of glorious tinkering. There might only be two guitars and a minimal drum kit on this record but they howl, scorch and throb in the most unholy ways, lulling the listener into an ecstatic stupor. This is helped by the fact that there’s so much sonic space here: you can live inside the sounds rather than submitting to them: this is music as tactile experience (again, the dub influence is telling here).

It’s not just about texture and timbre though. There might be plenty of ‘post-‘, but Kogumaza don’t forget the rock either. Indeed, this album calls into question the binary that the opening of Reynolds’ essay erects between the egghead ‘coldness’ of post-rock and the ‘warmness’ of conventional rock (something, to be fair, that Reynolds does himself towards the end of the essay): it’s has a highly sensual, embodied sound- full of kinetic physicality. The tom-centric drumming (no snare, and cymbals are used only for colour) locks into some propulsive grooving and the riffs- with a knowing nod in the direction of post-hardcore cosmonauts Lungfish- are equally strong, providing a solid grounding for numerous sonic lift-offs. Urgency is injected with subtle polyrhythms and gradual shifts in tempo meaning you can sway your body and tap your feet even as the textures sweep you into a parallel dimension.

It seems futile singling out individual tracks for praise or analysis: this is very much an album album, if you get me (it’s only available digitally or on vinyl and the former version comes as two MP3s: one per ‘side’). Tracks blur into one another (this is no bad thing) and the result is a singular, cohesive and persuasive whole. This speaks of a maturity- an ability to know what you’re good at and stick to it, and Kogumaza is perhaps not an album that a young band could make. It never overreaches, and speaks of a wisdom acquired through years of gigging and recording (the band’s collective CV is impressive, with members playing- sometimes together- in a variety of UK DIY luminaries including Reynolds, Wolves! (of Greece), Bob Tilton, Lords, Not in This Town, I Am Spartacus and Felix).

Yet despite this experience this is a refreshingly uncynical work bursting with an enthusiasm for the sounds rock instruments can make. For the listener it’s a record to cherish; a record to play loud; and a record to inhabit. A record to (post-)rock out to all night long.

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