Chrome Hoof: Disco-Space-Metal Collective Creates Futuristic, Silver-Studded Spectacles

Chrome Hoof: Crush Depth (Southern Records, 7/6/10)

Chrome Hoof: “Crystalline”

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Despite the sparkly silver cloaks and the monochromatic moniker, sterling is not the word that brothers Leo and Milo Smee use to describe their music. When asked where they would place themselves on the disco-chamber-doom-prog color spectrum, Milo chooses “an unpleasant magenta.”

Known for their flippant jokes, the Smees don’t apply an overly cerebral context to Chrome Hoof, their London rock ensemble of sci-fi sounds and occult vibes. Instead, the brothers direct serious energy toward producing a theatrical, stimulating live show. “We need to keep it fun and moving forward — especially with our low attention spans,” Leo says.

Originally formed as a duo with Leo on bass and Milo on drums, the Smees performed with a tape machine and a sampler to fill out the sound. Now a sprawling live incarnation of ten of more musicians, Chrome Hoof maintains a core of Leo and Milo with singer Lola Olafisoye of electronica funk band Spektrum. The logistics of coordinating such an impressive production can be trying, but they manage to pull it off with a deep roster of musicians.

Chrome Hoof

“As long as me, Milo, and Lola are available, then we can make it work,” Leo says. “We’re not huge on rehearsals, but we for sure have to put work in. Most of the members have jobs, and with having so many members, if certain people can’t make shows, we either draft other floating members in, or just cover the missing instruments with synths.”

Performances include a wardrobe of the aforementioned glittery-hooded, cultish cloaks, dancing girls adding a touch of chaotic energy, accompanying lasers and fog, and, for a time, a seven-foot metallic ram. The spectacle of a Chrome Hoof show is almost as important as the music itself. “Having a visual aspect increases the experience — and helps us to get into character,” Leo says. “You have to be there one time to see what it’s about. A YouTube video can’t transmit the two-way energy that being at the show does.”

Chrome Hoof

When making comparisons to their over-the-top performances, the brothers agree that there are plenty of theatrics in the rock arena. “We just saw Gwar,” Leo says, “but the idea of being on stage and entertaining seems to have dwindled. There’s a proliferation of four-boy outfits with trendy tattoos and tight jeans.”

Chrome Hoof’s third album, Crush Depth, released in May of 2010 on Southern Records, also bucks trendiness, garnering comparisons to iconic bands like Funkadelic, Slits, and Slayer. So what to make of such a disparate group? Though the band borrows liberally from a pool of eras and genres, to call them derivative or simply a musical collage would be missing the point. “I’m not sure there would be any band you couldn’t apply that [theory] to,” Milo says. “Everything has its roots in stuff that went before, but hopefully it’s apparent that we are trying to push forward in our own way.”

Chrome Hoof

Questioned as to whether it is even possible to make music that isn’t derivative of something, Milo is honest and realistic: “I’d like to say yes,” he responds, “but I can’t think of anything to back it up. It’s our thing. The power of music is undeniable; that doesn’t apply to rock music any more than anything else — or any more to 2010 than 3009.”

Take Crush Depth’s seven-minute “Sea Hornet,” easily the most incongruent track on the album. Opening with a low cackle of voices, a bass line emerges aping the riff from Rush’s “YYZ.” A half-melted synthesizer line combines with a 16th-note hi-hat beat to turn the heavy throb on its head and into a loungy, Tortoise-style groove. Then triumphant strings and an ’80s whip-crack snare effect combine to form a pumping anthem. While the song fades out, unintelligible, whispered vocals hover over an extended cool-down. Though bordering on exhausting and indulgent, its clever calculations and undeniable sense of fun make “Sea Hornet” a standout track, incongruence and all.

Chrome Hoof

Sharing a progressive, experimental approach to music, the band had the opportunity to play Magma’s 40th anniversary show with French composer Jean-Pierre Massiera in October of 2009. This led to Massiera’s contribution to the track “Towards Zero” on Crush Depth. Leo explains, “We wanted to do a cover version of ‘Visitors’ ages ago, so when we were asked to do a collaboration with Massiera, we jumped at the chance. We had a couple of rehearsals prior to the gig, but the only problem is that we had little knowledge of the French language, and Massiera [had even] with less English. He couldn’t remember a lot of his old tunes and had to be guided through the songs. He’s a live wire for sure, which only added to the feast. As we were working on the album, we thought it would be a cheeky opportunity to capture this legend on record. He was more than happy to shriek some guttural poetry on top of our music.”

Chrome Hoof

Recording Crush Depth took about a year to complete. Over that period, Milo and Leo had quiet times where decisions could be delayed, which they say was useful in the process as parts were recorded at 50 locations with 70 people. “There was a 12-piece choir, harpist, maybe 10 people doing a bit of engineering here and there, back-up parts recorded to double certain lines, obviously the whole band, and quite a few guest musicians,” Milo says. Those guests include German experimental group Cluster on “Deadly Pressure,” an ominous Cthulu-rising space jam.

“[Songs] changed according to environments, availability of personnel, credit status, et cetera,” Milos says. “It was a fluid process. The time that we had meant we could try a lot of things out.” The long process also meant that the band was able to borrow lots of keyboards, a Mellotron, and “the overrated Moog Taurus.”

Chrome Hoof

To explain the result of the extensive cast of collaborators and the amount of time spent creating Crush Depth, Milo uses a snack-cake analogy, comparing it to the band’s previous album, Pre-Emptive False Rapture: “It has more layers, like a foul Sara Lee cake. Pre-Emptive is more digestible — like a Mr. Kipling Almond Slice. Crush Depth is like the title — whatever you make of that. It’s more of an album to be played as a whole.”

Though the United States has waited for a proper release of Chrome Hoof’s material, it may take much longer for Americans to see Chrome Hoof in the flesh. After all, bringing together the sheer multitude of musicians, dancers, instruments, and props for a cross-Atlantic tour will only be resolved by a Herculean scheduling effort. But there must be hope for such a journey, because the band has proven, through its recordings and its legendary performances, that it is willing to go the extra mile.

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Moon & Moon: Musical Theater Meets “Hyper-Art”

Moon & Moon: VII Acts of an Iron KingMoon & Moon: VII Acts of an Iron King (La Société Expéditionnaire, 11/11/08)

Moon & Moon: “Act II: Hands of a Man”

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“I want to trick people into coming to a regular show and then be like, ‘Ahhh! You’re at a musical! Oh, shit. You’re fucked now,’” William Lemon III explains when describing his ultimate vision for his band, Moon & Moon. “I’ve always been into the idea of musical theater. It encompasses so many things.”

“If someone gave me a million dollars [for a production],” Lemon continues, “I would have hors d’oeuvres, I would have smell-o-vision, I would have projections in the background, I would have moving backdrops, and I would have dancers that would go and — depending on the song — caress or slap the audience on the ass, or feed them, or goose them, or some shit to get people completely immersed in every single sense. Eventually, it will happen. I have faith that it will happen.”

Moon & Moon

Lemon is the driving force behind the theatrical rock of Moon & Moon as well as the group’s only official permanent member. Including pianist Lou Rogai (Lewis & Clarke), drummer Stephen Kurtz, bassist Jay Hudak (An Albatross), vocalist Stephonik Youth, and percussionist Edward Klinger, a circle of friends and collaborators appear on Moon & Moon’s debut album, VII Acts of an Iron King, and assemble for live shows. That’s not to say that the other musicians are hired guns or one-offs. In fact, plans are already in motion for a second album.

Lemon’s faith is the crux of the album. “The record is more or less a religious exorcism of beliefs that were holding me back,” he says. “The archetypes that I was doing battle with, with my religious upbringing, are archetypes that everybody can see in every single human conflict. There were these characters inside of me, fighting with myself and creating this anxiety. I got to name them and then describe their imperfections and why they were fighting.”

“I want to trick people into coming to a regular show and then be like, ‘Ahhh! You’re at a musical! Oh, shit. You’re fucked now.’”

Each song, or “act,” represents these archetypes as characters in an epic story. An iron king sails on the ocean with no real destination in mind, and suddenly sets his sights on a woman who he decides that he wants as his queen. He launches an attack on her city, sending in an army of boys to attack the populace. Ultimately, he gets his queen, but while surveying his new “accomplishments,” he realizes that he was only at war with himself.

As seven-year-old Olivia Galarza’s narration guides the listener, different sounds and voices evoke specific emotions: a baritone saxophone represents a wild-eyed celebration of murder, and an echoed trumpet blasts a war cry and levels a city. The music, storyline, and varied textures alone create an enveloping atmosphere on record, and if Lemon ever puts on the live show that he would like to, the experience would be overwhelming. “The whole thing is like a hyper-art project,” he says.

Moon & Moon

Lemon is fairly new at creating music, more or less getting started when his friend Devendra Banhart gave him a flute leftover from a video shoot. “I took it home, I looked at it, and I was like, ‘I’m going to learn to play this fucking flute,’” Lemon says. “So I taught myself how to play flute.” After a learning curve that involved basement jams with Banhart, members of VietNam, and other friends, he began working on putting together an album, a three-year undertaking.

“I am the worst musician on the album,” he says while praising his collaborators. “Instead of giving [the musicians] a note structure, I would play a little melody, we would jam out with it, and then I would say, ‘Okay, now you are this person.’ Not unlike a play, like a theatrical thing — like they were acting through their instruments.”

The resultant album represents the emotional shedding of beliefs with which Lemon grew up. He still has faith, but it no longer involves “massively organized religion with no focus on personal enlightenment.” Concluding about his new spirituality, Lemon says, “Religion is a beautiful thing. I still have a tremendous amount of faith, but now my faith is directed toward the entire human race as opposed to a fraction of it.”

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Q&A: Young Widows

Young Widows: In and Out of Youth and LightnessYoung Widows: In and Out of Youth and Lightness (Temporary Residence, 4/12/11)

Young Widows: “Future Heart”

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Though not a strict departure from previous material, the new album by post-hardcore outfit Young Widows displays a different phase of the band’s career. Calling it a “progression” might apply regressive traits to its first two albums, but In and Out of Youth and Lightness turns down the Cro-Magnon wallop and continues the band’s history of accomplished noise rock.

Its last album, Old Wounds, was a mostly live recording by Kurt Ballou (Converge, Coliseum, Pygmy Lush). In contrast, the new album was produced by the band and Kevin Ratterman (My Morning Jacket) at The Funeral Home in its hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Guitarist and vocalist Evan Patterson joined us to answer a few questions about the band’s songwriting process and what bands people should check out.

How do you describe your music?

I don’t, but if you were a clerk at a gas station, I would tell you that we are a rock band. That’s as far as I can go.

On the new album, there’s a bit of a weird blues influence — less Jesus Lizard pummel and more of a Liars atmospheric vibe. What did you want to do new or different? What did you want to keep the same?

Music has to progress. There are no specific influences. The goal with this album was to find my voice, and that was wholeheartedly achieved. Lyrically, [they’re] the heaviest and most affective songs that I’ve created. Old blues has that same effect on me. It speaks to me. The bridge between modern rock music and blues is a short one, and it’s inevitable that those characteristics will be riding in the same vehicle to achieve certain goals.

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Q&A: Seven That Spells

Seven That Spells: Future Retro SpasmSeven That Spells: Future Retro Spasm (Beta-Lactam Ring, 5/20/10)

Seven That Spells: “Olympos”

[audio:|titles=Seven That Spells: “Olympos”]

Croatian space-rock outfit Seven That Spells deals in extended psychedelic guitar freak-outs in the vein of Magma, Circle, Zappa, Trans Am, or Hawkwind. Perhaps its biggest musical influence, however, is Kawabata Makoto, who appears on the 2007 album Men From Dystopia. Founder and guitarist Niko Potočnjak modeled his collective after Makoto’s Acid Mothers Temple; lineups are transient, albums sound raw and live, and though recorded material is certainly released, the band lives for the performance.

The following Q&A was conducted with Potočnjak. He is extremely passionate about the music that his band creates, preferring danger and experimentation over consistency. The most telling quote from his dialogue demonstrates a singular philosophy that eschews genre: “We play music.”

How do you describe your music?

Psychedelic rock for the 23rd Century. New old religion of super loud! Polymetrics and occasional Viking funeral rites.

Can you give us a history of the band?

STS was formed in 2003. The main purpose was to have fun and play rock. Eight years, 60 people, and nine albums later, the purpose remains the same. We believe in the power and sincerity of rock music. I say “we” because STS is a collective — I just happen to be a guy with good organizational skills and a strong vision.

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