‘Volume 1’ is the hugely impressive debut from recently formed rock band Black Note Graffiti, a band formed from the ashes of Krescent 4 and possessed of an encyclopaedic knowledge of the hard rock scene that has developed over the last twenty years or so. With elements of hard rock, metal, grunge and indie all combining, ‘volume 1’ is one of those precious albums that you just don’t get straight away, indeed SonicAbuse was initially ambivalent to its charms, but with a little time and perseverance the bands gift for melody and their talent for song-writing shines through and you start to realise the band’s devious master plan. By drawing from a number of genres, the music stays fresh, the band invigorated and invigorating, and the album, as a result, repays numerous returns. With elements of Fugazi, Kyuss, Hawkwind and Muse all present in the mix, ‘volume 1’ is a hard rock treat that will keep you guessing until the end as to what the band will come up with next.
The album opens with ‘Revanche’ which takes ‘Showbiz’-era Muse and sets it to the syncopated rhythms of Fugazi, juxtaposing a huge, fire-breathing chorus, with a stripped down verse that relies upon the unconventional vocals and atypical guitar playing of Ricardo Ortiz and Kris Keller, the two allowing their instruments to intertwine before combining for a headlong plunge into the blazing power chords of the chorus. It is not easy and the first listen is more liable to pick up the jarring elements than the sheer genius of the arrangement, but persevere and the wonders of the band’s intelligently crafted music will become apparent. ‘Monkey’ takes heavy guitars and a slacker vocal and slides into territory somewhere between Radiohead, Pavement and Korn (no seriously) with a blistering disco beat powering molten guitars and indie melodies so rich you’d imagine the NME to already be pawing at the band’s door. ‘Scars’ sees Ricardo and Kris’ vocals panned hard left and right on a track that veers into Jolly territory with its awkward beats and fuzz-laden guitars. Further cementing that Muse link, the next track up is ‘Stockholm syndrome’ with its wailing guitars and raging, bass-led riffs sounding for all the world like Kyuss, fronted by Steve Malkmus, covering Rush. It’s a strangely addictive noise that the band makes and if you are intrigued by the frequently unique eccentricities of the US indie scene, then Black Note Graffiti will undoubtedly capture your attention whole.
Heading further into the abyss, ‘fire’ is a mix of Sabbath riffs and the reggae-punk of the Clash, as incongruous as that sounds, and the vocals take on real bite even as the guitars nimbly navigate all manner of stylistic shifts on their way to the exit. ‘Write/right’ calms the frenetic pace somewhat and draws the listener back to the awkward time signatures of ‘end hits’ era Fugazi before suddenly unleashing a chorus so laden with vitriol that the speakers start to bubble and burn with the intensity. ‘Space funk’ is exactly what it says, sounding like Incubus (way before they went lame) crossed with Hawkwind, the guitars a solid wall that break against the close-knit harmonies of the vocals which shift from RHCP territory on the verse to Duran Duran melodies on the chorus. If your head isn’t spinning by this point, then it’s clearly been too warped by Jesus Lizard to be further incensed. ‘Mr masochist’ is a stripped-down exercise in dynamics, veering between the rhythmic stabs of guitar that make up the verse and the heavier chorus whilst ‘Rose knows’ has a brutal groove lurking at its heart with the guitars turned up to eleven and the band engaging in a punkish assault that is part Clash, part manic Street Preachers and part Pavement. Final song ‘Stitches’ cuts a loose stoner groove with elastic bass and serpentine vocals and you’re left with the distinct impression that you’ve just witnessed a band who may actually be unique, even in this cynical and overcrowded era.
As you can probably see from the review, Black Note Graffiti are neither easy to pin down nor is it advisable. If you were to apply a lazy pigeonhole it would be ‘US Indie’, but as anyone who has spent any time listening to US indie bands will tell you, that term covers a multitude of sins. The closest heritage it is possible to approximate for the band is probably the pioneering acts of the late eighties and early nineties – acts like Fugazi, the Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth and early Red Hot Chilli Peppers -although there are also touches of the lo-fi scene (Sebadoh & Pavement for example) as well as vocal links to post-progressive sounds of Muse and Radiohead. With such a mixture at hand there is no surprise that the album often sounds sort of familiar but also entirely new. Like a sense of déjà vu, you catch a glimpse of something you’re sure you’ve heard before and then, before you can fully grasp what it was, it’s gone and you’re left feeling confused, disorientated and yet profoundly impressed. Throughout this review I have tried to find references to give a flavour of the band, but it must be noted that they are just that – tastes of the band which never fully convey the entire flavour of the recipe. Black Note Graffiti are a fascinating, frequently unique and inspirational band. ‘Volume 1’ is not, perhaps, an easy album, but it most certainly is worthwhile.