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Straying far away from the mainstream music scene, Rolo Tomassi have set up camp in a niche area of today’s musical landscape where conforming to the conventional is not required. Playing a noisy, brash and original blend of rock allowed them to turn heads with the release of their 2008 debut album, Hysterics, which even vocalist James Spence admits was “basically chaos”. Now, two years later, Rolo Tomassi return to confront the senses of music fans worldwide with a second album that retains the chaos of past while injecting more melody and structure into the mix.
If Rolo Tomassi’s Cosmology was somehow transformed into physical artwork, their songs would be abstract surrealist paintings. At first, they appear disjointed, unrecognisable and lacking coherency. Yet cast an eye over them for an extended period of time (in this case give them a couple of listens) and they slowly reveal themselves as more carefully crafted bodies of work than initially suggested.
The influence of noise terrorists like The Locust, The Number 12 Looks Like You and The Blood Brothers is glaringly apparent. It’s as though these guys belong to a parallel universe of music where the rules of traditional songwriting just don’t apply. Melody is splattered somewhat randomly against chugging guitars, buzzing synthesizers and the crisscrossing vocals of Eva Spence’s piercing screech and James Spence’s frantic wail. On paper it may sound like a mess, but it’s the band’s disregard for doing what has been done before that makes their music appealing.
Although the first three songs are terrifying noisecore stompers laced with spacey synthesizers and skewed guitar riffs, the album does become more accessible- and I do mean “accessible” in a very loose sense- by “Party Wounds” onwards when James Spence’s vocals gain force and the chaotic sections find equilibrium with the melodic and structured parts. A mathcore headkicker like “French” may show Rolo Tomassi at their most uncompromising, but the second half of the album really begins to shine with the likes of “Kasia”, “Sakia” and “Tongue” all balancing the band’s abrasive edge with melodic keyboard melodies and harmonic singing. These songs show the band transcending their roots in noisy rock in order to move onto a sophisticated mix of experimental music.
It should also be noted that helping Rolo Tomassi achieve their vision for Cosmology is a rather unlikely producer. Although Diplo and Rolo Tomassi are the music equivalent of chalk and cheese, the renowned DJ was so impressed by the band’s debut album that he signed up as producer for this album. Some might have expected a different direction from the band with Diplo producing, but rest assured, he has instead allowed the band to continue on their own path and has only worked to intensity the sound of Cosmology.
In an age where there’s a tendency for bands to follow one another around in circles blinded by the desire to simply cash in on the most popular sound of the time, it’s refreshing to hear a band figuratively give the music industry the finger and to go and do their own thing. Rolo Tomassi’s music may be an acquired taste and one that still requires refining, but given enough time, and they could well find themselves ahead the pack as a band who had the integrity to lead rather than follow.
4. Party Wounds