The Lamb As Effigy, Sprain’s latest attempt at achieving the incomprehensible, sees them fall short despite their respectably lofty ambitions.
Black Country, New Road. Black Midi. Squid. Saxophones and schoolboy-ish 27 year olds. References, references, inspiration, “The Scene”. Swans and Godspeed! You Black Emperor and yes it’s the same riff for 10 minutes, that’s the point. A conversation that everyone is having at the same time with no one else, repeating the thing that they didn’t hear from somewhere they don’t remember.
If you are familiar with a world (to put it broadly) where being familiar is its own currency and the knowledge of new music is mediated by a field of already existing knowledge of old music that is actually still quite new, then you will enjoy Sprain. I, for one, have no idea how to even think about it.
I get the sense that if you are aware to any significant degree of the various underground/alternative/”post-” albums that surface out of the bubbling of the real underground, there are two possible approaches open to you. You can adopt a benign ignorance and entertain the vague sameness of all of these albums with renewed enthusiasm, perhaps even taking to Twitter in a moment of incongruous meta-awareness to bemoan those comparing two quite similar bands. Or, you can go full cynic and essentially close yourself off to what is, in the grand scheme of things, a lot of baseline interesting music being made within the closest thing to community we are allowed to have. I don’t like either of these approaches. And thinking about them probably makes me worse than both. Shall we talk about the music?
Sprain are loud but self-consciously so. Something is always stopping them or moving them along. You don’t have to wait very long for something pleasant to happen, and all the avant-garde bits are refreshingly bite size and do not demand you to feel anything complex. There is an overarching sense of profundity but never really any end goal. When they try something genuinely disarming, like undercutting the dreary piano build at the end of ‘The Reclining Nude’ with a discordant, noise-drenched guitar solo, the effect is mostly dry confusion. The closing track (the title of which I loudly sighed at and will not be printing here as a result) is particularly offensive on account of doing all the things you might expect from it having heard the preceding 7 songs, but much slower and with many more dull, tension-less gaps in between each section. I like to pretend Sprain just kept forgetting what they were about to play, and it’s so featureless I can’t really blame them.
This album is very long and very grey; I want it to feel like a collapsing building or a huge slab of metal, like Glenn Branca or Unwound at their most abrasive. But its sense of style is far too familiar and the challenge it presents me is not all that difficult to comprehend.
Moreover, it doesn’t exactly feel like these were lyrics written because they were the kinds of things a man might moan over these kinds of instrumentals, but it doesn’t not feel like that. Frontman Alex Kent struggles his words out, but not like he is struggling with their emotional content. He sings like he is struggling just to speak. Indeed, their in-between-ness might well summarise my feelings about Sprain as good as anything. I don’t know what they invented and what they stole. This could be entirely accidental or entirely cynical. There certainly isn’t enough passion or incompetence to convince me either way. Were I to avoid the obvious, I might describe them as a sort of stretched out Muse. Or Michael Gira’s best impression of Jeff Buckley. I’ve done it again. There’s actually no saving me.