Band: Those Darn Gnomes
Album: Calling Whitetails to a Tuned Bow
Label: Nefarious Industries
Genre: Avant-Garde Metal / Free Jazz
Country: United States
Release Date: June 28th, 2019
The avant-garde music scene is a free-for-all. It contains everything from Björk’s Medúlla to the infamous LuLu. It’s also a very divisive scene, with some music fans having a deep love for it, and others disregarding it completely. I personally have a deep love for it, and I feel that music would become stale and pointless without it. However, that does not mean I think avant-garde records are above criticism. While some avant-garde albums are among the greatest ever made, there are equally as many that are among the worst. Unfortunately, Calling Whitetails to a Tuned Bow is one of the worst avant-garde albums I’ve heard in recent years.
The issue with Calling Whitetails… is a complete lack of direction. Now I understand Those Darn Gnomes have indicated that this album is partially free jazz, but that does not excuse how awful the compositions are. There are several moments on this album featuring unnecessary cacophony. While these moments are dense, loud, and extremely fast, they are equally uninteresting. Despite the introduction of some unique instrumentation, like the woodwind embellishments on the intro, there is nothing special going on after sorting through the noise. Often what we are left with is standard guitar, average drums, and unbearably pretentious vocals.
The song Hall is a prime example of this. Around the five-minute mark the song calms down and enters what I feel is actually a great atmospheric section. It creates a strong sense of unease while sticking to simple and serene acoustic instrumentation. Even when the drums come back in, the song doesn’t break its tension. However, this only lasts until the eight-minute mark, when the track becomes unbearable. It starts with these awful horror movie whisper vocals paired with occasional volume spikes that I feel are meant to be jump scares. The track creeps along until the drums start becoming chaotic, with non-stop cymbal crashes and weird shots of auditory distortion. At this point, some truly hideous clean vocals come in. The melody and effects here sound like an awful Frank Ocean rip off. I solo out this track because it demonstrates how pointlessly some of these songs progress. I’m not opposed to an odd song structure, but Those Darn Gnomes time and time again slaughter any momentum these tracks have, often by jumping headfirst into a barrage of noise that only has surface value. What this means to me, is that this band took the “let’s just play as many instruments as loudly as we can” approach to avant-garde music. These moments aren’t climactic and menacing, they are annoying and pretentious.
Another example is the song A Cliff In Our Garden. This song is actually really good up until the four-minute twenty-second mark. It starts as essentially a doom metal song but then descends back into the same uniform wall of sound as rest of the songs. At this moment, every aspect of the song nosedives in quality. The playing and vocals become much less interesting, and this lasts for almost three full minutes. At the end, we get another serene drone, granted with another bad vocal performance, but at least everything is clear here. I get the feeling that this record wants to be impenetrable and impossible to pin down, but it falls so short of that. Once I managed to get past the initial shock of most of these songs, I just found myself bored. Aside from sharp jumps in style, these songs don’t go anywhere meaningful. The best moments on this album are ruined in an instant by an unnecessary desire to be loud.
There are other issues here too. The massive lineup for this album seems like it was just for show, since none of the extra musicians really have a presence on it. It feels almost insulting that so few of the players get to shine. Aside from the guitars, drums, and vocals not much else is really here. Maybe this one is on me, but if this band is going to boast about its 13 additional musicians, I’d like to feel like they are all audible. The huge line-up on this album could have really brought out the free jazz elements properly. Instead of them just feeling tacked on, Calling Whitetails… could have done something great with all of the extra players, but it doesn’t.
I really don’t have anything substantially nice to say about this album. It feels like the bare minimum approach to making avant-garde music. This record needed to be significantly more methodical, and not just throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. Those Darn Gnomes squander their potential with a series of tasteless and pretentious mistakes.
- A Cliff In Our Garden
- The Frail Stag (Vanity Sounds the Horn and Ignorance Unleashes the Hounds Overconfidence, Rashness, and Desire)
Total Playing Time: 40:43