Saturday, 26 May 2018

Album: Robocobra Quartet - Plays Hard to Get

Robocobra Quartet - Plays Hard To Get

Info: Mining infuence from jazz, hardcore and contemporary classical music, Robocobra Quartet sound like little else. Formed at the Sonic Arts Research Centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the group operate as an expanding, contracting and ever-changing collective. A no-holds-barred approach centred on a howling drummer-vocalist and menacing saxophones takes them to festivals such as SXSW (USA), Brilliant Corners Festival of Jazz (UK) and Into The Great Wide Open (Netherlands). 

An album of extremes, 'Robocobra Quartet Plays Hard To Get' is the follow-up to the NI Music Prize-nominated 'Music for All Occasions' (2016). A musical tug-of-war, this irascible collection of songs frequently turns on a dime - insisting on your full attention. Project-managed from the drum throne of vocalist, drummer and producer Chris Ryan, disparate nods to modern classical music, hardcore and free jazz battle together and often stack upon one another.

A slow cinematic introduction greets us on Robocobra Quartet's sophomore album, Plays Hard to Get. Opener 'Short Stretch of Day' sets the tone, we are going to ponder and be left pondering by the utterances and themes Ryan tenders, in this instance being born into a world already numb to tales of terror and conditioned without question to follow the new rules; "Things have always been this way, haven't they? I know our life is a minuscule part of a moment in a short stretch of day. We're like whales, I think. After a while, barnacles cling and we float around getting used to things."

"You'll Wade" finds a full embracing of their bedrock of classical jazz, the saxophones cast in a dramatic but ponderous old world dye, and at times, particularly at the break at 2:30 there's a little hint of BADBADNOTGOOD mood-building. It already feels like these stories are difficult to tell, whilst at the same time providing a necessary relief from some inner pain. 

Robocobra Quartet - 'You'll Wade'

Every song is a story, like separate scenes that do not follow any particular chronology, 'Try Hard' is exceptionally vivid, and this, like all across the album, is achieved through the lyrics and their partnership with the movement of the music. There's a powerful menace to the percussion and bass, and it all feels subtly unnerving in a Kafka-esque way, like I'm sitting in a café at night time under the eye of The Castle, waiting for the authorities to arrive, I'm a dissident, an enemy of the State.

'Pinballs' is again inward-looking, but addresses a common theme we can all feel of coasting, unhappily. From wide-eyed youthful determination, to suddenly awaking one day to find there is no direction or purpose to anything, your former you a stranger; "I'm approximately three times the person I was then, but I'm twice as unsure. I caught a glimpse of that person in the mirror - he seems unready for the world. He seems unsteady in his words. He seems hurt. His seams are teeming with dirt."

The abrasive Robocobra Quartet arrives on the wonderfully titled 'I Shouldn't Have Watched The Film What Lies Beneath (When I Was Twelve)', the early sombre frustration of the earlier tracks bellow out in a scorched rage. For anyone who has seen the band live, you struggle to avoid thinking of how anarchically this would play out on stage. As is his wont, Chris Ryan concludes the track with an abrupt an almost throwaway final observation.

Groove stylings enter the mix on 'Blue Sky Sinking', it's a warm moment on Plays Hard to Get, 70's soundtrack, urban, rain-wet neon reflecting pavements, night-time, perhaps reflecting on the artistic turmoil of turning fleeting inspiration into something tangible, physical and satisfying. The music warbles and scrambles but is unexpectedly calming and escapist.

The protagonist in the closing track on the album, 'Ah', couldn't be more timely, and I can think of many such individuals in the public sphere who have slithered up the steps of pulpits over the last few months, intoxicated by new-found attention. The instrumental break at the half-way point is exquisite, skulking and sinister, and you feel that slow, slow, slow build, I've been waiting for this moment all album long. Robocobra Quartet, the masters of drawing you in and then tearing your head apart with brute force anarchy. 

Plays Hard to Get is an album for poets, dreamers, escapists, the lost, the lonely, the painfully aware and an endless amount of interpretations of what has come out of Chris Ryan's head, with Robocobra Quartet once again offering up a collection of tracks and ideas that show there is simply no one else like them out there.

Plays Hard to Get is now available to purchase on 12" vinyl and digital download at the below links.

Upcoming live dates are here

Robocobra Quartet - Plays Hard to Get Album

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