Picture a 15-year old looking for unheard-of indie rock to impress his friends. He’s surfing through iTunes, and he comes across “…And You Will Know Us By the Trail Of Dead”. Perfect. Instant download.
That was me, sitting in front of my Alienware Area 51-M gaming computer, looking for music as a background for four hour sessions of Sudden Strike. My walls were covered with posters of Franz Ferdinand, Art Brut, The Libertines. I was downloading Jimmy Eat World; I was convinced that if I downloaded any band that I’d never heard of with a cool name, it would be great. Wrong.
The best thing about AYWKUBTTOD remains their name. Apparently it’s plagiarised from a Mayan ritual chant — well, it’s awesome. It conjures images of zombies and Gothic scenery. But the band’s sound is far from Gothic, varying from lighter, more emotive rock to a combination of loud blurred guitars and gruff screaming. The closest to Gothic that “The Century of Self”, AYWKUBTTOD’s sixth release, is “Giant’s Causeway”, a mock medieval theme song played on fuzzed guitars, the entrance to the album. One can imagine knights running heroically in a battle against an evil wizard’s castle in a 1980s cartoon animation to this sort of music. One of them would probably cry “save Albion!” whilst tossing a troll off the drawbridge.
I have to add here that in no way is “The Century of Self” easy listening — to immerse oneself into this very ’80s-’90s grunge-metallica takes patience. It would be very easy to treat this album in the same way as many people have chosen to treat The Mars Volta, another Texas-based band with heavy rock sound; AYWKUBTTOD’s could be another sound writhing on one of the screeching music boneyards of the mind. But that would be wrong. Although neither of the band’s interchangeable singers/guitarists (Jason Reece and Conrad Keeley) can really sing, per se, on this album there is a generosity that pokes through on tracks like “Pictures of an Only Child”, something absent from Volta’s raucous interpretation of the call to produce music. Such generosity gestures towards the transcendent, and through its (relative) softness, reveals the possibility of a deeper spirituality. To be sure, loudness and dissonance on the album are unoriginal and unaesthetically pleasing, but it is consistently composed and feels like it comes from a solid artistic background, at least at times.
The best song on the album, by far, is “Bells of Creation”. Despite the fact that it is firmly rooted in mid to late ’90s middle-core rock (oh Lenny Kravitz, are you a deity in disguise?), it also gestures towards earlier influences like The Who in some of its chords. At the final “We were standing on the shore facing the open sea / Listening to the sound of the waves breaking / And I turned to you and said we should never leave / We were changed”, one has an epiphany: “Bells of Creation” is pretty damn good, something that could be on a mix-tape of songs for a roadtrip and never annoy anybody.
All considered, I have to say that I like “The Century of Self” far better than their 2005 album “Worlds Apart”. Maybe the band has matured, but I think it is far more likely that I have.