3 out of 5
Label: VHF Records
Produced by: Richard Formby and Michael Flower (mixed by)
From the opening assault of Mick Flower’s violent Japan Banjo wailing, and Chris Corsano’s free-wheeling percussion thrash – the two playing as the logically named Flower-Corsano Duo – on their sophomore The Four Aims album, I firstly thought: this is one of the most aggressive VHF albums I’ve heard; and I secondly thought: I’m dang sold. ‘I, Brute Force,’ that first track, is also certainly logically named, and it marries Flower’s Sunroof! / Vibracathedral Orchestra psychedelia to a Lightning Bolt fuzzed-up production wash and drum terror. If solely that description sounds exciting – and it does to me – you will likely have the same stuck-in-place reaction to this song.
What follows… is different.
While I’m sure there’s a story to be found across the album’s five tracks, it’s not readily apparent to me. I’d like to say the songs play off of one another in some type of dichotomy – from chaos to control, for example – but I don’t hear that either. For the most part, I instead hear different “modes” in which the duo agrees to play. Circling back to Brute Force, if the result of those modes was something unleashed in each instance – Flower / Corsano digging deep into each style – that, in itself, would give Four Aims structure, but that’s also not quite the case. I, Brute Force, over its ten minutes, doesn’t change all that much. It’s all assault, as due to that, by about halfway through, you’ll have heard what it can offer. The next track – The Three Degrees of Temptation – is the ambient, minimalist inverse of the opener, and after that, The Drifter’s Miracles could very well pass for a Vibracathedral song, with its shimmery blend of keys and guitar. These two are expert players, and surely widely skilled, I just don’t hear them playing off of each other to get somewhere new, as opposed to settling in to an m.o., almost instantaneously.
The final two tracks on the CD version – The Beginning of the End and The Main Ingredient – though recorded at separate times, do actually make good on building off of one another, as well as intra-song. Both err toward volume, and actually ebb and flow, with the former track introducing some quiet / loud dynamics and the latter using its 17+ minute runtime to achieve epic status. The vinyl’s D-side has three shorter tracks, and they’re rather an ideal combination of the intensity of the opener, plus the sense of musically thematic consistency offered by Beginning of the End and Ingredient. While two of the three tracks were also recorded at separate times from one another, they all somehow build and riff off of the other, and there’s actually, like, a legit badass breakdown; you get an actual sense of Flower and Corsano as a duo, and not just two dudes improvising in the same room.
That doesn’t mean the whole album “should” have been similarly amped up songs as all these latter ones, but there’s a flow and evolution to these tracks that’s otherwise rather missing. The flipside of this criticism is that The Four Aims is very easy on the ears, and also stuffed with interesting sounds – even when Brute Force is making a mess of your speakers, it has a somewhat trance-like effect due to its non-stop nature (and the relative flattening of how its mixed / recorded), and the following tracks are comparatively peaceful; it was relatively simple to find a stance on the album because I was listening to it so much.
Having now sampled other Flower-Corsano pairings, I’m definitely glad I was turned on to them, but it does seem best to assess tracks in isolation. And once you’ve sort of level set that their various musical experiments are more a meeting on the same plane than they are a battle, all the bluster – while maybe not as jaw-dropping as that first exposure – it’s generally quite pleasant.