Photo Courtesy of NNA Tapes
Decomposing Force, the latest LP by New York noise-jazz trio GRID, plays out like a guided workout session for the ears.
Composed of four tracks that span 42 minutes, the band’s sophomore album will heighten listeners’ heart rates with blaring saxophone wails, frantic bass fretting and disjointed drumming before easing them into a cooldown during its slow-burning back half. But, like a real workout, every part won’t exactly be enjoyable.
Take, for instance, the opening track and lead single, “Brutal Kings.” The uptempo song immediately jars the listener with a chaotic barrage of Middle Eastern-sounding saxophone lines and scattered drum hits. It shocks the brain and requires a moment to get one’s bearings and discern the song’s feel, which can best be described as war elephants stampeding into battle.
But, upon repeated listens, “Brutal Kings” stands out as one of the best tracks on Decomposing Force. Being the shortest and most acoustic song of the four, it showcases the album’s polished production and best exemplifies the band playing as a cohesive unit. And with its long moments of tension and short breaths of release, it’s a bold choice to start the record, but it definitely gets the blood pumping.
Following “Brutal Kings,” Decomposing Force grows even more hostile and ferocious with “Nythynge,” a 12 minute-plus hellscape of a piece. Named after a Middle English word that means coward or wretch, “Nythynge” best channels the feeling of the album’s title that evokes a kind of devouring ecosystem.
Matt Nelson’s distorted saxophone, which you could swear was the upper frets of an electric guitar or, at times, a weed whacker, unyieldingly shrieks into his recording mic. Bassist Tim Dahl bass strikes low-end notes that growl and add to the cacophony of Nick Podgurksi’s drumming. Podgurski gives his best performance on “Nythynge,” keeping the piece grounded until the sonic onslaughts lets up at the eight minute mark. Around then, a steady bass riff emerges in sync with the drums and Nelson solos the song to a close, capping off the aggressiveness of the album’s first half and shifting into its cooldown portion.
Although shorter in length than “Nythynge,” Decomposing Force’s third song, “The Weight of Literacy,” unfolds in a slow doom-like crawl that makes it feel much longer. The song consists of the band’s rhythm section laying a continuous foundation for Nelson’s saxophone leads. With its slow intensity and subterranean bass playing, “Literacy” sounds reminiscent of an early Melvins song only with a jazzier twist. When the track eventually collapses into a barrage of noise, some swirling electronic samples are skillfully thrown into the mix, introducing some fresh, new textures.
The closer, “Cold Seep,” which clocks in just over 12 minutes, leads the album through its final stretch. The ambient-influenced track employs a great deal of reverb and feedback to create a spacious but heavy atmosphere. With restrained drumming and bass playing, “Cold Sleep” is defined by Nelson’s pedalboard-assisted saxophone blasts that linger in the hazy ether. His haunting notes are the last impressions the album makes on the listener, whose ears are probably settling into a post-workout high.
Decomposing Force sees GRID improving upon its debut both in musicianship and production value. The band’s new album evolves its high-risk, high-reward sound, which is as indebted to free jazz as it is to noise music or ambient. With its chaotic nature, visceral feel and absence of any overdubs, DF has a good amount of replayability, where each new listen reveals more of the subtle changes that permeate its runtime. Just make sure to prepare your ears to do some heavy lifting.