4 out of 5
Label: Touch and Go
Produced by: Steve Albini
Storm & Stress seems like such an impossibility. Not that some Don Cabbers and jazz drummer Kevin Shea wouldn’t meet and produce an album of jittery explosions of pitter-patter drumming and glittery, plucked guitar with wild slashes of freakouts and, poem readouts in a drunken slur… that all seems quite viable. Rather, that something so abstract – and this is that, only floating in and out of post-rock and jazz territory – would coalesce onto a prominent label not really known for such material, and not be treated as a lark does seem odd, at least, and while I recognize that “features members from Don Caballero” press would probably get one far, it got Touch and Go Records and Storm and Stress far enough for two such albums, which seems oddest of all.
I had been explaining to a music mate at the time about how my tastes were evolving more towards the erratic, and knowing I’d had a jones for Don Cab, he put on the Storm &Stress disc in the store in which he was working and prepared me to marvel at how it would clear out the shop as all the indie kids became puzzled over how to react to it.
Well, it didn’t have that effect, but it netted a purchase from me. S & S would prove not to be as anarchic as I needed – I would discover what I wanted on VHF Records – but it was still an absolutely unique, weird, how-did-this-get-made release that remains equal parts puzzling and grooving, still hitting those marks when i listen to it decades after the fact
The descriptors above are pretty accurate: Storm and Stress vacillates between bursts of violent drumming and searing guitar at unpredictable intervals, stitching together stretches of mumbled half-sentences and light, painterly dabbles of percussion, tapped guitar strings, and a burbling bass. The first half of the album feels moderately structured – a broad ebb and flow of action and inaction. However, after the brief, accurately named Micah Gaugh Sings All Is All interlude, the album drops its most sparse, disassembled piece, Guitar Cabinet Stack Way High Is Freedom Or Gravity Gives Us Rhythm, which would be a perfect closer, but the group further belabors the point a bit with )range Cone Made No Noise.
A little too rocking for outré jazz, and not-there enough for post-rockers, Storm & Stress’ debut remains an odd listen, but also possibly… a great one?