3 out of 5
Label: Trost Records, Conspiracy Records
Produced by: Bernhard Hahn (recorded by, mixed by)
When I first heard Valina, what really grabbed me was how imperfect they were. The group’s busy busy busy sound lends itself to a type of precision of which they’re absolutely capable, but didn’t seem to abide by: non-stop drum fills and a burbling bass and clean, punky riffage would just sort of clash with one another, falling off time and the back. But it’s not sloppy – it’s just, like, willfully rushed to destruction, mirrored in the often doom-laden lyrics talk-sung by guitarist Anatol Bogendorfer. It’s a very weird sound, but also instantly identifiable as Valina, and rather addictive in its breathless pursuit of getting to the end of a song – though this sometimes encourages a brevity and mix-and-match of song sections that can also work against the band. (Then ironically also becoming part of their DNA which makes them unique – something you want to hear again just to wrap your brain around its odd timings.)
At the start of things, Valina are hitting all of these high points, but also more clearly show off a lot of their post-rock and melodic influences, nibbing some moments from Fugazi, and a lot from Chicago-ers like Shellac. They play this stuff like aces, already favoring a “clean” sound that makes their chops notable, favoring crisp notes and a level mix, but it’s definitely the tracks where what I’d say would eventually become the Valina “sound” is in the lead that makes this debut most worthwhile. Setting aside the intro, opener Comet Buster is pure Valina stuff, packed to the gills with sound and passion and never resting on a particular riff for longer than it takes to give it its due groove, and later in the disc we follow suit with Red Light Off and False Sushi Cooks Among Us.
Other tracks aren’t slouches, but they’re a bit more balanced between this effect and more slowed down and typical post-rock stuff. The group’s penchant for switching gears is evident throughout, but it’s when they’re at their most frenzied that the style sticks out and begs another listen. Into Arsenal Of Codes is uneven in that sense – cohesive, but split between coloring in the lines and scribbling outside of them – though with enough standout cuts and moments to justify its presence in one’s collection, even if later, more consistently Valina-ish albums will probably get more play.