Sprain are a rock band who do some pretty wild and crazy things. Just off the top of my head I can think of loads. We’re talking about serious shenanigans. Who can forget… Well, I guess you had to be there. Their new album, The Lamb As Effigy, is just another moment in their history of doing cool and unexpected things.
The opening track ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes’ is my song of the year so far. This is one of the wild and crazy things I’ve already referred to. The bassline has a bizarre groove to it that dances around the strange cadences to the lyrics (“And I will STAND HERE like an IDIOT”) and has made it so I’ve found myself shouting the lines to an audience of no one whilst cooking exotic foods (pie) in my kitchen.
There are moments that sound a little more familiar. Second track ‘Reiterations’ feels like a culmination of everything they’ve tried to do on earlier tracks. It’s aggressive and relentless. The vocals build throughout the track to dissonant screams, leaving you with only the drums that feel like the irregular beat of your heart after the terror of the first half of the song. ‘Privilege of Being’ delves more into noise and soundscapes, something that comes up more frequently on this release. The avant-garde stylings of some of these tracks create a much more bizarre and complex world than what you would initially have been prepared for just listening to the ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes’ single when it first came out.
The duo of tracks ‘The Commercial Nude’ and ‘The Reclining Nude’ are some of the most unsettling moments on the record. The softer vocals and cutesy spaceship noises at the start of the ‘The Commercial Nude’ are totally unexpected, and it ends up being one of the more moving tracks they’ve done. It reminds me of something like ‘Blind’ by Swans, but as with so much of the album also has hints of the more abstract style of Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch era. The epic ending of this song straight into the dark pianos of ‘The Reclining Nude’ even have some elements of Radiohead in there. All of that quickly dissipates though when the song fully kicks in you’re immediately led into an onslaught of cacophonous guitars that take you straight back through the gates of hell.
The track Margin For Error is 24 minutes and 36 seconds long, and likewise, but not exactly the same, the track God, Or Whatever You Call It is 24 minutes and 38 seconds long. You have to wonder why exactly these tracks are so close in length, and yet, strangely, worlds apart in length. What the hell are they playing at with that 2 second difference? It really does make the mind boggle.
In fairness to the band, the two tracks also happen to be different songs, which could explain this. There’s a lot one could accomplish in that time. Both songs are brilliant in their own right, but the length allows for a certain level of multi-tasking. I’ve found that by matching the songs to specific, muted episodes of the television programme Seinfeld, you can really conjure up some different meanings for both the song and the chosen episode of Seinfeld.
So be it then, my picks are as follows.
Margin For Error - “The Rye” (Season 7, episode 11)
The opening lines “I know nothing/That is the one thing I know/The war is over and you have now ground/Me into a fine dust” pair beautifully with Jerry’s struggles to convince the old lady at the bakery to give him the last, eponymous rye bread. Jerry’s reluctance to take no for an answer and his final theft of the loaf is perhaps the win this vocalist truly needs. Droning organs wail through the track, creating an atmosphere of repulsive tension, tension that can be felt towards the beginning of season 7 episode 11 of Seinfeld in which Frank Costanza takes back the rye bread he bought as a gift for George’s new in-laws after they discover it went uneaten at the dinner. The huge crescendos further into the track remind me of Kramer because he is insane.
God, Or Whatever You Call It - “The Marine Biologist” (Season 5, episode 14)
“While passersby all bid on the Lamb as effigy/ Humiliation is the blueprint of all my morals.” Damn, this line is heavy. I mean, it’s unlikely not to invoke the moment in this episode in which George, after lying to a woman that he is a marine biologist to impress her, is tasked with actually saving a beached whale. George’s moral compass, also fueled by the sisyphean humiliation he forces upon himself day in day out, is certainly something to think about as this track progresses. The consistent quiet-then-loud sections at the start of God, Or Whatever You Call It are as jarring as they are thrilling. As with so much of this album, you’re never at ease for too long, so it makes sense then that it should be intrinsically linked to this classic episode and the constant unease of Elaine as she tries to impress a Russian author. Instead of impressing him, she allows her annoying electronic organizer to continue go off, or once again makes a fool of herself by informing him the original name of Tolstoy’s War and Peace was War, What Is It Good For (a classic prank from Jerry). The softly spoken part towards the end of the track and the noisy, tolling bells could seem out of place, were it not for this classic 90s sitcom running alongside it.
Looking back at this behemoth of an album, clocking in at 96 minutes, it’s understandable that some audiences would find it hard to separate it from its Seinfeld counterpart episodes, however it really is so much more than that. In fact, it works just as well without them. If the listener is willing to go into the album alone, without the comfort of taking Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer with them, they’ll find something intensely powerful within the solo experience. It will be a desolate and depraved, uncomfortable and riotous experience. You’ll probably be glad to have seen it through.
It is, however, the first lines on the final track that resonate with myself, the author, the most: “These first two drafts rejected with a single critique/’It is rapturous still, the way you fill a page/I find it to be lacking’”. Huh.
The Lamb As Effigy is out now on all streaming platforms and is released through The Flenser.