In my mind there are two kinds of people who play music, who create art. There are those who are compelled to do it, who feel the overwhelming urge to create something, to make a statement. Then there are those who see it as some sort of a career move, a way to make money, gain kudos or just to get laid. I’m in mo doubt that STOOR fit in to the former category. There’s no marketing strategy, hype of five-year plan involved, just four friends getting together to make music that they enjoy, music that thrills and pleases them. Importantly though, this is no self-indulgent, vanity project. Both live and now on record STOOR are an enthralling and thrilling band.
Having been intermittently active for over a decade with two vinyl EPs to their name (the second of which was pressed but never released for reasons I don’t know) the last year or so has seen STOOR being pretty active, at least by their own standards, in public. This, their debut album, was apparently compiled from over fifty recordings and, if STOOR are to be believed for they do trade in obfuscation and mystery, these eleven songs represent the ones they were able to track down the masters for. The reason for my doubt is that the album sounds very cohesive and thought-out rather than merely being a result of accident and it’s an album that demands to be listened to in one sitting and rewards repeated plays. The original disc of the un-mastered album which I’ve had since late last year was entitled ‘The STOOR Chronicles, 1986-2020’ but this is a complete album rather than an almanac, at least to my ears.
The opening song ‘The Secret World Of Cement’ is a cool, quirky instrumental that sets out STOOR’s stall well. A solid, inventive rhythm section allows the guitars space to shift from a scratchy, nagging riff to more melodic parts building into a sweet climax. ‘Liberator’ follows on and it’s a catchy song with a perplexing lyric, which seems to set-up Stef as the ultimate unreliable narrator:
“I am no Pablo Picasso
You will not see things through my eyes
I am no Mata Hari
You will see right through my disguise”
‘Liberator’ has some pretty cool interplay both between the two guitars and with the bass and drums and it’s a great song.
Historical events and characters pop up time and again in the lyrics and there’s an apocalyptic, post-punk feel to STOOR’s songs. ‘Aye, No’ builds up on a punk-funk rhythm, solid and melodic with the main and backing vocal playing off of one another like a call and response. It has a pretty hypnotic feel to the verses combined with epic instrumental breaks racking up the tension between verses. The words are both razor sharp and surreal with lines like
A man who walked on the moon
And he never came back”
seemingly conveying a sense of wonder and fear at the same time. The guitars are equal parts sweetness and dissonance and remind me a lot of the late, great Rowland S. Howard’s ability to both brutalise and bless the listener’s ears. ‘Infect Me’ is equally wonderful and unnerving. Beginning with just a scratchy guitar, spiky bass and rolling drums it becomes increasingly manic with edgy vocals almost on the edge of madness, full of images of disease and mutilation:
“Contagion is growing
Contagion will blossom
To open our lives”
‘Infect Me’ is like the theme tune to a twisted 50s B-Movie, undoubtedly one with a post-apocalyptic twist and a cracking song to boot.
‘The Devil Rides Out’ is utterly barmy but in a good, no, brilliant way. It’s another bizarre song, the verses a distant cousin of The Fall’s wonderful ‘Cruisers Creek’ while the chorus swells into a bonkers prog-garage sing-along that’s as brilliant as it is utterly insane. There’s some neat wah-wah guitar and effects giving it a psychedelic trashy feel. In lesser hands ‘The Devil Rides Out’ could be a pompous morass but with STOOR it sounds pretty damn fine.
‘March Of The Molluscs’ has a Dub like structure. It’s a quite spacey instrumental that floats around, building and dropping while gathering a sense of form and momentum. ‘Frack’ is a pretty straightforward song, at least by STOOR’s imitable standards with an insistent, nagging tune. With it’s lines about ‘disembowelment’ and a chorus of ‘Feed the frenzy / Shove it into its mouth’. I’m not quite sure what it’s all about but with a tune as good as this who cares? ‘Open The Box’ buzzes about inside your head like a swarm of Bees and is impossible to ignore, equal parts maddening and delightful.
‘Hold That Thought’ takes the frantic pace down a notch or three with it’s almost Medieval sounding introduction, a call and response vocal listing a series of historical atrocities and characters from Somalia to Serbia and from Jim Jones to Pol Pot over a beautiful tune. It’s a really discordant mix between the lyrics and music but works well and the atmosphere is quite eerie but breathtaking as well, shifting from elegiac, sombre verses to a lighter, gentler chorus. ‘Witchfinder General’ is, on the surface, a lighter counterpoint to ‘Hold That Thought’ but still has a nervy, anxious feel to it and the lyrics and delivery seem to warn of human folly and the danger of Messiah’s:
“Brothers and Sisters gather
To meet the latest hazard
Hear the word”
Things come to an end with ‘Sure Beats Me’ which builds upon the mood set on the album opener adding organ into the mix and coming up with what sounds like the theme tune to the best ever 70s Eastern European spy thriller never made. It’s a high speed, tension filled car chase through dimly lit streets.
So there we have it, STOOR’s debut album. It’s pretty off-the-wall, intense and utterly wonderful. As I’ve alluded to earlier, they have their influences but are pretty much one of a kind as well. I’m not sure where they fit in with the current music world, I’m not sure they would really want to fit in anyway. Who would buy this album? Well, if you like your music challenging but accessible, inventive but melodic then I’d thoroughly recommend this delightful album to you. I know it’s only May but this is my album of 2015 so far and it’s going to have to be something special to topple this one from that slot.