TERA MELOS / TANGLED HAIR, 22ND MARCH 2018, CARDIFF CLWB IFOR BACH
Technical prowess to the fore? Songs received with the sort of reverential silence with which librarians might mark the passing of their most respected colleagues? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we're a long, long way from punk.
When it comes to describing the music that Tangled Hair make, captured on long-in-the-making debut LP We Do What We Can, "tangled" is indeed the operative word. Complex guitar and bass lines intertwine around and snag on the extraordinary rhythms created by drummer James Trood (also of AlunaGeorge) - rhythms that it's almost impossible to believe aren't generated synthetically.
Too often, though, Tangled Hair's songs come across as sterile academic exercises, torturously labyrinthine displays of virtuosity blighted further by weak emo vocals. Which only makes tracks like 'Forty Winks' all the more frustrating for proving that the band can hit hard, find a groove and target heart as well as head if and when they want.
Tera Melos are no less technically adept, but make sure that when they show off their considerable chops it's always in service of the songs. The visceral is consistently valued over the cerebral. Unlike their touring buddies, they never forget that the most fundamental remit of a rock band is to rock.
Pitchfork reviewer Saby Reyes-Kulkarni's attempt to compare the Sacramento trio to The Police seems even more jaw-droppingly ludicrous when you witness them live - but it does underline just how hard they are to define, even loosely. Frequently hailed as math-rock trailblazers, Tera Melos also harness the unfettered imagination of prog and the intensity of hardcore. Latest record Trash Generator - so good it's "upsetting", according to Tangled Hair - sounds on occasions like what noise/electro weirdos Black Dice would sculpt if playing around with pop punk putty.
In the flesh, though, they remind me most of Thee Oh Sees if they were as good in reality as they are in principle, and if John Dwyer had ADHD. Pedal fiend Nick Reinhart warps his guitar to arresting effect while bassist Nathan Latona and drummer John Clardy keep the songs locked down and on course. Clardy's preparations for the set include breathing exercises and stretching - little wonder, given the rigorous workout that follows.
After Trash Generator's punchiest track 'Your Friends' brings the main set to an end, Reinhart announces the encore as the "fun" segment of the show. As if what's gone before hasn't already been a thrilling, zigzagging joyride.
(An edited version of this review originally appeared on the Buzz website.)