Album Review

12 Omeros

12 Omeros

by Sharpie Crows

Flying Nun
8.5 / 10
13th August 2013

Reviewed by Chris Familton

When you first hear 12 Omeros, Sharpie Crows' third album,  you are immediately welcomed and drawn in by the beautiful drifting rhythms of ‘(You’ve Got Your) Face On Straight’. The song smooths out the stress lines with its meandering slouch and slither approach - like dub in the hands of some neurotic city dwellers. They then cheekily set you up for more of the same hazy comfort music with the piano intro to ‘Maypole’ before dissonant and jerky abrasion throw you sideways amid the sick caterwaul yelp of Sam Bradford before he bellows “I’ll tear your fucking throat out”. These are two of the more assertive extremes that the rest of 12 Omeros operates within, in all of its visceral, dread inducing glory.

Sharpie Crows are a band who sound completely of themselves, out of time with most other music in 2013 and yet, some how, still completely modern.  The rhythm section (bassist Steven Huf and drummer Jackson Hobbs) anchors nearly everything on this record, whether it’s the nervy Radiohead groove of ‘Thank You Ladies For The Spread’ or the industrial grind of ‘Piccolo Pete’. The incorporation of dub and some subtle krautrock tendencies (repetition and drone) gives the rest of the band the sonic freedom to build layers of horns, synths, guitar and vocals across the songs.

Post punk is their most obvious antecedent,  the band owing a large part of their approach to the likes of The Fall, Magazine and the musical violence of The Birthday Party. Their songs feel open and deconstructed, not hemmed in by distinct verses and choruses yet they are still songs - strong, classically formed yet mysterious and often humorous songs. That balance of song craft, creative curiosity and an ear for good editing is what elevates 12 Omeros above so many other bands that attempt similar concoctions.

Sharpie Crows also sound undoubtedly local,  easily slotting into the lineage of New Zealand music.  The dark undertones of 12 Omeros bring to mind the artful belligerence of Headless Chickens, the industrial vibe that permeates a song like ‘Sand Storm’ recalls Skeptics and NRA while ‘Roasting A Swan’ reads like a tribute to The Clean. The same comparisons could be made with international acts but for those of us of a certain age it is hard to listen to Sharpie Crows without hearing the echoes of those and other local luminaries from the not too distant past.

Standing out as the finest achievement on 12 Omeros is ‘Ethiopian Mass’ with its recurring siren like squeal and sparse, brittle guitar shapes. It almost sounds like Television on half speed, primarily by way of its hypnotic qualities and the ability to build and sustain tension. It is a wonderful, haunting composition that winds, tumbles and enchants with the artistry of a musical snake charmer.

Sharpie Crows have built something of a shroud of mystery around themselves, an aloofness, a desire to make music in their own time and not play within industry conventions. 12 Omeros demands time, wide ears, an open mind and a willingness to be immersed in both gentle and intense artful indulgence. It embraces discomfort, it nurtures unease and it pours disdain on musical complacency.

Ethiopian Mass
Ethiopian Mass, by Sharpie Crows
From: 12 Omeros, (2013)

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