I’ve been sitting on Quack Quack’s debut album Slow As An Eyeball for a couple of months now, attempting to integrate its myriad ideas into a coherent whole. It’s worked in so far as this review exists, but there’s a playful sense of unpredictability to their music that has so far prevented it being slotted easily into the filing cabinet that is my brain. That, I’m pretty sure, is more or less a Good Thing. It certainly makes for a dizzying first listen, and subsequent revisits do little to allay the feeling of breathlessness that it seems to sweat from its very core.
The most succinct way to describe the overriding attitude of Slow As An Eyeball is that it smacks of exploration, and even during its most contemplative moments buzzes with the heady thrill of discovering territories as yet unmapped. Whether the trio break any new ground per se in doing so is almost by-the-by; the sheer exuberance with which they travel is infectious in itself. That’s at least in part down to the album’s gestation and recording process: the whole thing was recorded live, in gaps between live shows and work with other projects, and rattles with the same energy their performances have become renowned for.
It’s also hard not to wonder how much of their music was written in advance of recording. The disjointed swagger of ‘Three’ has that fresh-faced, wide-awake quality that’s often a hallmark of improvised music – it’s almost as if they’ve never performed it before, and are just as amazed as anyone watching that they’re managing to pull it off quite so seamlessly.
But, perhaps surprisingly given the sheer pace of many songs on here, Quack Quack don’t tap into a caffeinated or artificially-induced wakefulness, nor into the fuzzy-edged focus you might expect after a couple of drinks. In the least un-rock ‘n’ roll way possible, Slow As An Eyeball sounds almost terrifyingly sober. Opener ‘Perpetual Spinach’ is the sound of three musicians plugging in and locking tightly into a shared mindset, before the jagged onslaught of ‘D Motherfucker D’ (what a title!) tests that connection. It’s the kind of clean, smooth and unswerving accuracy that you can only expect with an entirely clear head – and it’s the tension between that unaltered state and the headfuckingly bizarre nature of the music itself that makes it such a compellingly odd listen.
I suppose if you were to attempt to bracket Quack Quack’s music, you’d probably make much of its jazzy feel. ‘Three’ is Esbjorn Svensson Trio on steroids, shards of broken piano remaining intact but locked into a flailing synth ‘n’ bass groove, and the melodic and rhythmic freedom of ‘Toc H’ is entirely unfettered by any notion of straightforward structure. It’s what modern jazz might sound like, were it taken out of the acoustic arena and thrown into a world where electronics collide with traditional instrumentation. Nowhere is that connection more apparent than on the title track, its breakneck bass guitar figure and diffuse percussion suddenly playing host to a frantic sax burst from Polar Bear’s Pete Wareham. Like both Wareham’s bands, where Quack Quack succeed is in dragging a purist’s idea of jazz through a gritty rock ‘n’ roll filter. The results are far more lo-fi but succeed in a similar way, fusing alien modalities with the far more familiar language of rock music, and retain an almost pathological sense of concentration throughout.
7Rory Gibb's Score