It’s a joke, right?
I think it was Saturday Night Live in the early 80’s when I really understood how the general public felt about bass players. All the guys in Spinal Tap played bass: lead bass, rhythm bass and bass. It was hilarious. I mean, it’s so funny that anyone would even think of bass outside of it’s function as a back-up thingy. Oh, and then there’s Derek Smalls’ double-neck 4-string. I admit, it’s pretty funny.
I meant to write about Double Double a few weeks ago. Seumthing kept getting in the way, which I’ll address at the end of this review.
I wound up getting pissed. I mean REALLY pissed. Another (nameless) review site was brutal and dismissive about the album in a way I thought was cruel and unnecessary. I had to reach out to one of the Grand Pooba’s of the Doom charts to get some perspective, and he walked me off the ledge. I knew I had to gruel on and get this piece written.
One does not pick fights with sites that use (virtual) ink by the barrel, and whose readership for a single post is probably greater than what I get in a year. But still, it’s the usual metalspaining, Gatekeeping bullshit that anyone trying to do anything even remotely interesting and original has to endure.
At the same time. Double Double is an acquired taste, and this isn’t for everyone. Listening to Seum isn’t like putting on a Dozer album and chilling out to a heavy groove. The experience is as demanding and relentless as the music: getting into it can be a raw, emotional experience.
Opening track Torpedo is probably the perfect choice for the first song. It starts out with a swerve, like there’s going to be non-Stop Ohm and Al Cisneros worship, but by the time the vocals and drums, it’s clear that this is anything but Ohm worship. Far too ugly and stripped of any meditative, contemplative sentimentality. I remember feeling disoriented and a little put off that I wasn’t hearing what I wanted to hear. I did not finish the track or the album on round one.
But it did get me thinking. A lot. I’m a bass player, and I have a certain unabashed LOVE for Ohm and anything to do with bass as a lead instrument, especially when paired with a killer drummer. The thing is, as a listener, I develop certain expectations, and I look for a point of reference when listening to or trying new things. For instance, when I go to a Thai restaurant, the first and only dish I order is Pad Thai. From that one experience, I judge the restaurant. I used to think it was a good strategy, but as I write I’m having second thoughts.
There are other bass/drum duos, and I’m gonna do my best to avoid metalspaining them. But I had a similar experience (briefly) with Year of the Cobra, a band in which Amy Tung-Barrysmith performs bass with her husband Johanes Barrysmith on drums. They were almost too accessible for me, and now I think of them with reverence.
I think Seum is elbowing themselves into the scene, in the sense that as a band, they are doing nothing to generate mass appeal to fit in. Ultimately, I think that’s what makes this album a true work of art: they do nothing that one would expect a band, of any genre, to do. I kept expecting them to zig, and they kept zagging. When I expect a pounding groove to build, they shift directions abruptly. I kept expecting the groove that’s in Tropedo to continue through Snow Bird, but instead got hit with a punk vibe that refused to sit still and comply. Those timing and rhythm transitions are jarring as hell and didn’t allow me a chance to let it sink in. It gives the false impression that they don’t know how to maintain a pulse, and the second listen didn’t fare much better.
Still, my thoughts kept going back to it for some reason. I dipped and dabbled a few more times. But that fifth listen… Man! It was like trying to get used to progressive eyeglasses: after getting a headache for a while, my vision became clear. I kinda knew what to expect, and I started head-banging in expectation of the violent shift that was about to happen. If this post takes a bit longer to write than usual, it’s because I keep getting sucked into the music in order to absorb it all into my bones. It’s a case where I need to STOP listening to this in order to write about it.
When Piotr reached out to me and gave me a copy of Double Double, I realized I needed to know more about his bass rig to get a sense of the decisions Seum made. And let me be clear, that first listen was extremely rough. I’ve heard anger so many times that it becomes background noise. That whole Hardcore Punk thing? I think the movie Repo Man explains it better than I can.
Like I wrote earlier, Seum don’t do anything I expect. As a bassist, Piotr doesn’t do anything the way I’d approach it. I’d have all sorts of pedals and effects, ranging from fuzz to flange, maybe even some looped parts to keep the pace going. But nooooo, not happenin’.
First is his choice of bass- an Ibanez SR 300. I had an early version of it, couldn’t play it at all. Narrow string spacing and the radius of the neck totally fucked up my hands and arms. Where’s the obligatory Rickenbacker? Or at least a beat-up American Fender P?
Then the amps. An Orange Rockverb 100 for the highs and an Orange Terror Bass 500 for the lows. I have Orange respect, but they’re not my taste at all. And the Peavy cabs! Again respect. But this rig seems as flexible and responsive as an old sedan when the power steering goes out. Only a master could use this gear with any degree of…oh, I guess that’s the point.
As for the drums and vocals: they were extremely hard for me to grasp. The drums, especially the cymbals, came across as all over the place and lacking any sense of coherence. The vocals were a harsh mishmash of screaming and yelling, in an accent I’m not used to hearing.
Until…BAM! Clarity and meaning broke through my resistance. Cheezie crust, these guys are good. Damn good. The vocals are literally a lead instrument, and while I have no clue how Gaspard speaks or articulates any meaningful dialogue after performances like this, with his sound there’s no need for a lead guitar. The percussive choices of Fred back that up- what sounded like noise comes across to me as a harmonic choice as much as keeping a beat. With every listen, I focus less on the bass and more on these guys. There’s a subtlety, believe it or not, to Gaspard’s drumming that I still can’t quite get a handle on
So, to wrap it up: sometimes the best art is hard to understand, even disturbing. When things challenge status quo and accepted norms, I’ve got give other people like that aforementioned review site a break. It can be hard to appreciate immediately, but given time and effort, it can reveal a new understanding. I think Double Double is challenging in that way, and the small amount of effort I’ve put into has been unexpectedly rewarding.
And now that I’m done writing, I can go back to listening to this crazy, wonderful stuff!