Rolo Tomassi are a five-piece from Sheffield who were heaped with no small amount of praise for their 2008 debut Hysterics. The follow-up, Cosmology, is an ear-molesting mix of frenetic riffs, horror movie synths, pummelling drums and screamed vocals, and bears a most surprising production credit for MIA collaborator and über-DJ Diplo.
It begins with a minute’s worth of spooky, repetitive keyboards before the sudden, unnerving arrival of thrash metal guitars and Eva Spence’s throat-shredding vocals. They call this stuff ‘mathcore’ which, even by the standards of most new-fangled genre labels, is baffling. Some Wikipedia-based research reveals that the ‘core’ denotes the music’s heaviness, the ‘math’ part the tangential, fidgety nature of the compositions. So, then, Cosmology isn’t an unyieldingly heavy record. Most of its ten tracks take detours through more tranquil musical landscapes. ‘Party Wounds’ features a vaguely bossa nova-like section in lieu of a middle eight, while the epic ‘Kasia’ devotes its first minute or so to an extended, keyboard-based intro.
This adaptability is reliant upon the flexibility of Eva Spence’s vocals (she shares singing duties with brother James). She spends most of Cosmology screaming her head off like a thrash metal vocalist, and on ‘French Motel’ she and James perform a series of those that low-pitched, guttural noises that sound as if they’re attempting to dislodge some particularly obstinate globules of phlegm from their throats. Elsewhere, on ‘Sakia’, Eva takes a break from channelling the devil to coo “Mirror, mirror on the wall” in a goth-lite fashion.
Musical restlessness is this band’s MO, so it seems churlish to complain about Cosmology’s disjointedness. But the quiet bits of the album don’t seem to stem intuitively from the loud bits, and vice versa. The former seem to be present simply to display the band’s ‘progressive’ nature. Moreover, Cosmology’s serene passages aren’t melodic or pretty enough to provide any effective form of contrast to the noisy parts. ‘Kasia’ is the closest thing the album gets to a fully-fledged song, but it merely shows up Rolo Tomassi’s severely limited tunesmithery. The best that can be said about ‘Kasia’ is that it sounds rather like Evanescence.
In light of this, the appearance of a straight-ahead thrasher would come as some relief. And it sounds like they’re about to do that for the first minute of ‘Tongue In Chic’, with its propulsive forward motion and exciting to-ing-and-fro-ing between Eva and James. But then the song halts suddenly to embark on a minute of faux-jazz noodling. Couldn’t it have been simple, just for once?
Given some of the ecstatic notices they’ve been receiving in the press, it’s clear that Rolo Tomassi have some attracted some devoted supporters. Some of those supporters might even consider Cosmology a mathcore masterwork. But it’s really hard to imagine what their justification might be.
[Hassle; May 24, 2010]