Rapidfire Reviews: Sign Crushes Motorist, Restraining Order, Sprain

Posted: by The Editor

Sign Crushes Motorist makes mood music. As the band name–and the title of their sophomore album Hurting suggest–that mood is melancholic. Hurting comes less than a year after last year’s deceptively titled I’ll Be Okay, and largely delivers more of the same. Expect, for the thirty-minute duration of Hurting, almost pervasive bleakness. From the appropriately titled “Manifesto”: “I am a burden on everyone in my life / I don’t deserve anything / I will be alone forever.” The music backing the words is just as stark; these songs are populated by distant guitars, gentle drones, and little else. They exist in the same realm, at the same tempo, and obsess over the same topics, the lone exception being closer “Death of a Heart,” which incorporates overblown electronics and features shouted vocals rather than solely whispered ones. 

All of the above might sound dismissive; it’s true that, for such a short listen, the misery that Hurting exudes can at times be overwhelming. But beyond that, beyond the lines like “I’d be better off dead” and “Nobody normal hurts like this,” beyond the loping guitar lines, beyond the monotone and quavering vocals, Hurting is a tender record. It’s a record inspired by pain, obviously, but it’s one that understands pain. Sign Crushes Motorist doesn’t merely replay their own miseries, they invite you to examine your own. Much of the record is simple, but when it comes down to it, so are most of our problems. 

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

“Misled,” the single that dropped the same day Restraining Order’s sophomore LP Locked in Time was announced, was the first Restraining Order track to hit me the way it did. It hints at the slightly more melodic direction Restraining Order takes here compared to This World Is Too Much. The operative word here is slightly, though—there’s no clean vocals on Locked in Time, and they haven’t pulled a Militarie Gun and gone alt rock. But the songs have a little more breathing room here, and they’re not just straight-ahead bangers; the nearly four-minute closer “Painted World” is built on bright alt rock riffs and carried by a hooky shouted performance and the title track has an early Fugazi groove to it, and “On the Run” and “Another Better Day” lean into skate punk.

Compared to This World Is Too Much, a serviceable and fun hardcore record, Locked in Time  is a huge leap forward for the MA/CT six-piece. They can still barrel ahead and tear the roof down, like on “Fight Back” and the 40-second “Inmate,” but their avoidance of hardcore tropes makes Locked in Time a standout in a year that’s already been great for hardcore.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Sprain’s earliest work was spidery, tense slowcore; they began to push beyond the genre with 2020’s As Lost Through Collision, a record that pulled from the wiry and angular post-hardcore of groups like Unwound or Fugazi as much as the sprawling post-rock of Godspeed or Slint. It was the band’s first release through experimental label The Flenser, and it fit their new home perfectly. But with their new album, the unsettling The Lamb as Effigy, they move even further into the avant-garde, experimenting with post-hardcore and post-rock, sure, but also noise rock, free jazz, post-punk, harsh noise, ambient, and theatrical spoken word in its ninety-plus-minute runtime. Yes, the record stretches well past an hour and a half, and half of its eight tracks exceed ten minutes, with two songs running nearly twenty-five–but Sprain keeps things fresh enough that The Lamb as Effigy feels captivating the whole way through.

“Man Proposes, God Disposes” kicks off the record on perhaps its heaviest note, a scuzzy post-punk cut anchored by Alex Kent’s barked baritone; besides the penultimate “We Think So Ill of You,” nothing else on the album is as conventionally aggressive, but Sprain’s able to keep up that feeling of crushing anxiety in more creative ways: the cacophonous wall of sound in the middle of “Reiterations,” the claustrophobic few moments before the false ending of “The Reclining Nude,” the screeching noises that interrupt the ending of “God, or Whatever You Call It.” The Lamb as Effigy constantly finds ways to up the ante without needing to resort to screamed vocals or overdriven guitars (although both make numerous appearances). The quarter-hour “Margin of Error” is the LP’s best moment, a Jenga tower of drones and shuffling drums and tremolos that builds continuously its entire runtime, always sounding like it’s just on the brink of collapse. It encapsulates everything Sprain attempts on The Lambs as Effigy, and it manages to make the dreadful sound beautiful.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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