When it comes to that oh so divisive term ‘supergroup’, the majority of bands branded with such a title seem to take umbrage at it, and from an outside perspective, there’s a logical explanation why. It’s because it’s such a loaded term, presuming that this new project that’s often formed for no other reason than to fill up a bit down time will produce the same sort of quality as the sum of its parts. And while on very rare occasions there are strong releases from these bands, the majority of the time, the same people doing the branding are left disappointed by the end result. Then again, the term could be shifted semantically to mean a band comprised of high-profile members, and without hearing a note of their music, that’s a banner that Giraffe Tongue Orchestra could easily fall under. But to humour the traditional supergroup trappings, their debut Broken Lines at least initially seemed to be coming from somewhere strong – not only does the band have members of Alice In Chains, Mastodon, The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Mars Volta among their ranks, but their debut live performances at Reading and Leeds were fairly solid (if more of a curiosity that anything), and thus the hype began building.
And almost like clockwork it comes tumbling down when Broken Lines fails dramatically to live up to expectations. Okay, perhaps that’s a bit harsh as, even though it’s worlds away from its creators’ career bests, Broken Lines isn’t a bad album at all. It’s very clearly a side-project, forty minutes of hard rock painted with shades of prog and garage rock, and with no grander aim than these five men just having a laugh in the studio. But despite both that and the fact that it feels as though most of the members are on autopilot here compared to previous outputs, Giraffe Tongue Orchestra definitely feel like a solid, cohesive unit. Alice In Chains’ William DuVall is front and centre with a far more vigorous vocal performance than the sludgy dirge of his day job, guitars from Mastodon’s Brent Binds and TDEP’s Ben Weiman have presence and muscle (even if they are slightly basic for the two men in question), and the whole collective is bellied by The Mars Volta’s Thomas Pridgen on drums and Dethklok’s Pete Griffin on bass. Even though their seeds are sewn all across the musical map, there’s an impressive level of synergy between GTO’s members, and that’s definitely something to be commended.
What’s less impressive are the songs themselves, and the fact that they can sometimes find themselves lacking a definable identity. To put it simply, you can tell that Giraffe Tongue Orchestra was originally intended as a project with multiple vocalists, as that’s the only thing that would give some of these tracks any real spark or personality. That’s no slight on DuVall as a vocalist – he’s got an undeniable magnetism and personality, and there are some tracks that benefit from him being at the helm. The punked-up shouts and jazzy wig-outs with Juliette Lewis on Back To The Light inject some much-appreciated immediacy, and the tracks that explore non-traditional influences like the sleazy electro-rock of Blood Moon or the borderline disco of Everyone Gets Everything They Really Want show a surprising malleability to his voice in the way that it really fits. But away from that, there’s a good chunk of this album that feels really anonymous – they’re not really bad (the sagging ballad All We Have Is Now is really the only reprehensible example), but on tracks like Crucifixion or Thieves And Whores, there’s nothing to them that passes solid yet unremarkable. Put simply, if this was a band of complete unknowns rather than already established musicians, Broken Lines probably wouldn’t be getting the attention that it is.
But at the end of the day, it’s difficult to really feel any sort of dislike towards Giraffe Tongue Orchestra. As an album, Broken Lines sets out to achieve nothing more than being a side-project for its creators to unwind between their main bands, and that’s something it definitely does. No, it’s not the most interesting or thought-provoking album released this year, but as a fun little listen to kill forty minutes, it does its job. For those going into these sorts of projects expecting verbatim greatness tantamount to its members’ day jobs, you’re probably used to disappointment by now, but for everyone else whose expectations remained capped, Broken Lines is still worth a spin or two.
For fans of: Pearl Jam, Queens Of The Stone Age, Foo Fighters
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Broken Lines’ by Giraffe Tongue Orchestra is out now on Party Smasher Inc. / Cooking Vinyl.