Perennial Long Island noise-rockers return with their first album in 14 years, as detailed and cacophonous as they’ve always been.
Since their 1983 debut Knees and Bones, the Long Island-based Controlled Bleeding’s 30-plus albums have spanned a dizzying array of genres including noise, industrial, no wave, prog, psych, dub, and jazz (just to name a few). Likewise, Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps—the band’s first album since 2002, and also their first since the deaths of key members Chris Moriarty and Joe Papa—cuts a wide swath through musical styles. But at this stage of a four-decade career defined by relentless exploration, it would be too easy for Controlled Bleeding to rest on the audacity of its kitchen-sink mentality alone.
Bandleader Paul Lemos imagined the album’s grotesque cover art (by musician/visual artist Gregory Jacobsen) would fit the music because he found it “simultaneously beautiful and revolting.” But even if Larva Lumps contains its fair share of sonic provocation, its deeper allure lies in the band’s ability to rein in and unify their musical appetites. For someone who appears to have first resorted to noise because of his limited musical skills, Lemos has grown into a seasoned bandleader who can extract near-miraculous levels of flexibility from his supporting cast while also keeping it raw, like a compromise between the trebly chicken-scratch sound of classic Chrome and the layering of modern Swans.
If you were to play this album on shuffle along with the band’s back-catalog, it would be difficult to distinguish the new material from the old. Larva Lumps’ gaunt, boxed-in production sounds mistakable for a low-budget indie-label recording from the late ’80s or early ’90s—the kind that just couldn’t be mastered to sound very “full” on CD. That said, the band is undeniably patient, even where latter-day members Chvad SB, Mike Bazini, and longtime drummer Anthony Meola’s programming lean more towards youthful passion than refinement.
The psych-rock of opener “Driving Through Darkness” sets the tone for the rest of the album. Over a hypnotic, uptempo groove, jousting organ and guitar lines recall ’60s garage stylings that Can would have bastardized decades ago, or Obits would have done this century. Lemos and company could easily have settled for a genre exercise. Instead, the song surpasses its own stylistic trappings as it ramps down towards its conclusion. When the drums drop out and Lemos drops twinkling harmonics over a gurgling bass line, it’s a rather convincing impression of Yes’ Steve Howe at the beginning of “Roundabout.”
That decision at the end of “Driving Through Darkness” underscores the subtlety and taste that Controlled Bleeding sustains throughout Lava Lumps’ two-disc sprawl. (The first disc contains studio material recorded over a four-year stretch, while the second disc consists of live-in-the-studio recordings helmed by underground production icon Martin Bisi). On roughly a third of the album—“Carving Song,” “Swarm,” and the 23-minute noise opus “The Perks of Being a Perv”— the band uses high-pitched static as if it were a weapon. Light years away from the unbridled retching of Knees and Bones, however, these tunes actually hold together thanks to Lemos’ tight arrangements.
As a seasoned composer, Lemos never allows the songs to lose their pulse or their sense of space, and his affinity for both becomes even more apparent when you measure the noise- and rock-oriented tunes against the melodic ones. On “As Evening Fades,” for example, he laces a picturesque piano loop with clean-toned guitar work that verges on new-age jazz. A younger act with something to prove might not have been able to resist marring the song with uglier sounds. Larva Lumps has plenty of those, but Lemos clearly understands the value of not forcing them into the picture. It allows even the most caustic moments to reveal the beauty at its core.
Review by; Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Review originally published on August 27th, 2016 here:
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