Psyopus - Our Puzzling Encounters Considered
Our Puzzling Encounters Considered
Metal Blade (2007)
Calculating Infinity has a lot to answer for. Ever since the release of Dillinger Escape Plan’s tour de force of whirlwind rage on the eve of the new millennium, hardcore bands (or specifically, the so-called “mathcore” bands) have been on a spazzed-out mission to outdo each other in the technicality stakes. Psyopus’ debut album, Ideas of Reference, effectively ended the competition with its spastic rhythms and the eight-fingered fret wizardry of driving force, Chris Arp.
Borrowing heavily from the fast-as-you-physically-can grind ethos, the musicianship displayed on Ideas of Reference was a million times (or more, even; remember this is the band that rejected Derek Roddy for not being technical enough) above that found on Calculating Infinity. However, for what it gained in forcing the jaws of musicians the world over to drop like stones in water, it equally lacked the variety and, simply put, songs to gain entry to the same pantheon in which Dillinger’s meisterwerk resides. The question that therefore has to be asked of sophomore effort, Our Puzzling Encounters Considered, is whether the gap between these two musical quantities has been narrowed, or even closed altogether.
The answer is that the gap has been reduced from an impassable chasm to one that requires a decent run up and a leap of faith. Parts of the album – mainly the opening few salvos – still hark back to the debut platter but for the majority of this album the technicality has been jettisoned as a showcase and become an integral part of producing Psyopus’ own brand of mathematical melody. There is less reliance on the jarring chords that dominated Ideas of Reference and it is clearly evident that a lot more thought has gone into composition this time around.
While Ideas of Reference possessed one or two moments of genius in the form of “Death, I…” and “The White Light”, from the fifth track (“Insects”) onwards, the new offering is littered with songs that put anything on that record to shame: “Imogen’s Puzzle pt. 2” carries on from the pt.1 but is extended to encompass Arp’s compositional enlightenment; “Play Some Skynyrd” grinds past in the blink of an eye while still managing to pierce said visual organ with a wonderfully precise spike; “Kill Us” presents a perfect arpeggiated riff that confirms the integration of technicality and song writing; then there’s the beautiful “Siobhan’s Song” which takes its classically infused cue from Burnt By The Sun’s album closer on Soundtrack to the Personal Revolution, “Rebecca”. Only Arp’s instrumental is actually better than Chris Rascio’s and if you procure Our Puzzling Encounters Considered purely on the strength of this one song alone you will not be disappointed at parting with your money.
The musicianship is, without question, some of the finest you will ever hear and while Ideas of Reference was probably only enjoyable to a guitarist or drummer, the additional craft of Our Puzzling Encounters Considered should allow for an expanded listener base to fully appreciate the mastery at work. This is also aided by a top notch production from the band themselves in conjunction with Doug White, with a good balance between clean interludes and distorted, angular riffs accomplished with suitable skill.
I was genuinely unsure how to approach this album. While Ideas of Reference was an amazing album from a skill point of view, its lack of any emotive qualities means that I very rarely revisit it. One was almost glad when it finished as the need for any kind of melody became overpowering. I just couldn’t see which avenues Chris Arp could explore to add this creative streak to his songs but, a slow start in comparison to the rest of the album aside, Our Puzzling Encounters Considered takes you on a guided tour of every nook and cranny of said avenues and is the labour of a band who are clearly progressing in the right direction.
Whatever Chris Arp has been doing in the two years since the release of Psyopus’ debut has certainly paid dividends and one’s thoughts now shift to the possibility of Arp & Co closing the gap between creativity and technicality completely on the next Psyopus record. Now that would be a genuine rival for Calculating Infinity’s crown.
Album of the day:
Red Sparowes - At the Soundless Dawn