When you first hear 12 Omeros you are immediately welcomed and drawn in by the beautiful meandering rhythms of ‘(You’ve Got Your) Face On Straight’. The song smoothes out the stress lines with its meandering slouch and slither approach, not dissimilar to dub in the hands of some neurotic city dwellers and they then cheekily set you up for more of the same hazy comfort music with the piano into to ‘Maypole’ before dissonant and jerky abrasion throw you sideways amid the sick caterwaul yelp of Sam Bradford before he bellows “I’ll tear your fucking throat out”. Now we have two of the more assertive extremes that the rest of 12 Omeros will operate within, in all of its visceral, dread inducing glory.
This is a band who sound completely of themselves, out of time with most other music in 2013 yet still sounding completely modern despite some of their obvious influences. The aforementioned rhythm section (bassist Steven Huf and drummer Jackson Hobbs) anchor nearly everything on this record, whether it’s the nervy Radiohead groove of ‘Thank You Ladies For The Spread’ or the industrial grind of ‘Piccolo Pete’. The incorporation of dub and some subtle krautrock tendencies (repetition and drone) gives the rest of the band the sonic freedom to build layers of horns, synths, guitar and vocals across the songs.
Post punk is the obvious antecedent for this kind of thing and Sharpie Crows owe a large part of their approach to the likes of The Fall, Magazine and the musical violence of The Birthday Party. Their songs feel open and deconstructed, not hemmed in by distinct verses and choruses yet they are still songs – strong, classically formed yet mysterious and often humorous songs. That balance of song craft, creative curiosity and an ear for good editing is what elevates 12 Omeros above so many other bands that attempt similar concoctions.
Another strong characteristic the band (and so many other NZ bands of recent years) possess is how strongly they fit into the lineage of New Zealand music. The dark undertones of 12 Omeros brings to mind the artful belligerence of Headless Chickens, the industrial vibe that permeates a song like ‘Sand Storm’ recalls Skeptics and NRA while ‘Roasting A Swan’ reads like a tribute to The Clean. The same comparisons could be made with international acts but for those of us of a certain age it is hard to listen to Sharpie Crows without hearing the echoes of those and other local luminaries from the not too distant past.
The song that stands out as the finest achievement on 12 Omeros is ‘Ethiopian Mass’ with its recurring siren like squeal and sparse, brittle guitar shapes. It almost sounds like Television on half speed, primarily by way of its hypnotic qualities and the ability to build and sustain tension. It is a wonderful, haunting composition that winds, tumbles and enchants with the artistry of a musical snake charmer.
Sharpie Crows have built something of a shroud of mystery around themselves, an aloofness, a desire to make music in their own time and not play within industry conventions. 12 Omeros demands time, wide ears, an open mind and a willingness to be immersed in both gentle and intense artful indulgence. It embraces discomfort, it nurtures unease and it pours disdain on musical complacency.
by Chris Familton
this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz