Release Date: 12/13/2016
There is something wildly refreshing about hearing a band that clearly lies completely outside of popular and current tastes. Free Salamander Exhibit, an Experimental/Avant-garde or, Rock Against Rock, in their words, band from Oakland, CA is comprised of members from the immaculate Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Idiot Flesh.
Free Salamander Exhibit largely pick up where SGM left off with their last album In Glorious Times (2007), sans Carla Kihlstedt’s songwriting, violin, and vocal contributions, of course. Everything else though that made SGM special is on full-display here: often dissonant music with a ton of dynamics, varying levels of heaviness, and inexplicably, as you’d think it impossible due to the content of the music itself, hook-laden vocal passages. The number of times the song “Undestroyed” has been stuck in my head over the past year or so is staggering. Then of course, perhaps the number one thing that makes this group of band’s sound stunningly different from everyone else: the bassist Dan Rathbun’s invented instruments, which literally allows you to hear sounds you have never heard before, and will not hear anywhere else. Then there’s Nils’ sparing use of flutes, which you’d think would be out of place, but makes the music all creepy-like and adds to the sense of atmosphere and discomfort, which I consider positives.
In comparison to the band members’ previous output, this album sounds considerably more metal inspired. It’s still their unique brand of heaviness, but I was a little shocked by the amount and level of exploration of this aspect of their sound. There’s also a bit less variety than you’d probably expect from these guys, but this does allow for the album to be quite cohesive. All in all, this is a highly worthy addition from the confusing minds of this collective group.
As an extra side note, the band is especially impressive live. They take their performances seriously: part art exhibit, part mind-blowing music, and if they stop by your town, it’s truly a spectacle to behold.
Highlights: “Undestroyed,” “The Gift”