The name Less Art has been getting thrown around quite a lot in some circles lately, almost exclusively due to the members. Certain underground hardcore and metal fans are bound to get a kick from alumni of Kowloon Walled City and Curl Up And Die and their inclusions here, but perhaps the most eye-catching is the presence of Riley and Ed Breckenridge, respective drummer and bassist of Thrice who released the utterly spellbound To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere last year.
Less Art’s debut Strangled Light, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different, a lot more incisive and difficult than that album ever got. And yet, it’s not quite as good, lacking much of the melodic composure that immediately through that album into true excellence. Then again, to even attempt to compare the two beyond a surface level would be ultimately pointless, given how completely different they both are. Instead, Less Art have more in common with bands like La Dispute or Touché Amoré and their brand of emotionally rigorous post-hardcore, and though the latter’s Stage Four continues to remain the gold standard of that scene, Strangled Light replicates that shattered poise in its own fashion. Granted, that comes with Mike Minnick pitching his voice into the familiar hoarse shout that’s the delivery of choice for a lot of these bands, but there’s sincerity and a tension to the instrumentals that show that Less Art certainly aren’t phoning it in. That definitely comes through on the jutting, acute riffing of Crushed Out or the nail-on-glass screams that punch through Diana The Huntress, but put through the melancholic grunge of Wandering Ghost and Shapeshifter, there’s something a lot more primal that bears so much more resonance in Less Art’s approach.
When it comes to this sort of post-hardcore though, the music only stands if it’s paired with lyrics good enough to match, and again, Less Art aren’t really tapping into the implosive grief and self-doubt that Touché Amoré did on Stage Four, but there’s still a lot of curdled passion in Minnick’s hoarse, staccato cry. It’s most effective when he touches on death, especially on the album’s two counterpart tracks Optimism As Survival and Pessimism As Denial, the former exploring the inner turmoils of having someone so close die, while the latter focusing on the human race’s general disregard for the planet, essentially letting it fade away without raising any sort of concern. With writing that’s less smart, these tracks wouldn’t hold as much water as they do, but because the lexis of suicide plays a major role in both, and considering the events and revelations that the rock world has endured only recently, there’s an extra layer of difficulty, but one that ultimately feels more worthwhile to break through.
That’s true of Strangled Light as a whole. The strength of the genre that Less Art find themselves in means that, in context, this album intrinsically struggles to rise to the top of the pile. That doesn’t stop it from being a damn potent listen though, and album that throws itself right at the deep end of what’s expected and has the sort of clout to stay afloat. Whether Less Art proves to be more than a temporary, marginally more affable project for the bulk of its creators remains to be seen, but there’s a lot of ground already covered here, and even more lying in their wake that could make for some fascinating listens down the road.
For fans of: La Dispute, Touché Amoré, At The Drive In
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Strangled Light’ by Less Art is out now on Gilead Media.