I don’t review much rock music anymore, because much of it doesn’t excite me aesthetically or push me intellectually. But when a band breaks through the garage-rock haze that is covering so much of rock with melodic prowess and technical brilliance, I sit up and take notice. Death and the Penguin (named after a Russian novel) is the most exciting rock/post-hardcore band that I’ve heard since The Felix Culpa. With the members of Mars Volta hopping around various side projects and one-off things, Death and the Penguin looks like they’re offering their band as a good candidate to step into TMV’s spazzy, eclectic shoes. The 20 minutes of Accidents Happen are one long campaign speech (if people went back and listened to campaign speeches over and over, which I’m sure someone somewhere does).
Now everyone is in a race to be crowned the next TMV, and maybe that’s a disservice to all the bands whose personalities are getting subverted into this quest. But let me tell you: “Strange Times” is the most straightforward track on the EP. It fits neatly into the post-hardcore milieu, especially with the vocal tone and delivery. But though it fits neatly, it still has wildcards. Check out its deceptively short 2:30 for proof.
Need more diversity? “Bitumen” starts off as a stomping/clapping work chant before turning into a groove-heavy rocker. The guitar tone, the rhythmic variations, the intensity of it, the crisp production; it just all comes together perfectly. This may be a debut, but these musicians have played for a while. They know how to draw energy out of the smallest bits of song as well as the biggest ones.
The rest of the EP continues in that vein: juxtaposing unexpected sounds, creating tension and resolving it, and (most of all) throwing down wicked guitar riffs. “Space 1998” is particularly powerful in those regards–as the second track, it’s the one that really raised my eyebrows and hooked me for the rest of the EP. Accidents Happen, alright, but this is EP doesn’t have much in the way of error. It’s tight, poised, heavy, energetic, intelligent, and clever. That doesn’t happen very often.