Glassjaw has never really died. They’re like a phoenix, if said mythical flaming bird also suffered from an incredibly hectic demeanor and a haphazard attitude towards its own existence. Ever since kicking off the underground music scene of the early 00’s, Glassjaw continued to treat their career and musical progression like they did their by-now legendary live shows. Arms flailing, music appearing and then disappearing for undefined periods of time, submerged in the rumors of hiatus and demise only to resurface from time to time with a voice of thunder, Glassjaw has spent the last fifteen years basically being a nightmare for all but the most die hard of fans. But to be honest with you, it was worth it. It was worth having that name in the periphery of the scene but also, somehow, at its center, waiting for a reconciliation, for Glassjaw and the rumor of Glassjaw. It was worth it because, at the end of the process, we got Material Control.
It was worth it because Material Control is the promise of Glassjaw written large. It is equally of the band and out of sync with their previous works; it is a statement of who they are now, lineup changes and all, but it also continues the same seeds of expression and a restrained lack of control that made the band so important in the past. Material Control does not attempt to reconcile its facets and it does not seek peace. Instead, it is all furious shifting of lenses, not exactly a change in focus since that would imply that a focus exists. In the place of focus, Material Control has identity. It has a sound which is its own, still unparalleled in the realms of post-hardcore.
What is this identity? It would be foolish not to start describing it by starting from the groove section and building up. First, the influences of one Billy Rymer, rising from the death throes of The Dillinger Escape Plan, is all over this album. It’s in the impossible to quantify rhythm of “citizen”, in the furious crash of cymbals across the entire album. Rymer’s style lends Material Control an urgency which dispels much of the tropes which ail the often lackluster backbones of post-hardcore; his explosive style pushes Material Control forward. Listen to it on the aforementioned “citizen”, note how there are very few gaps that are not filled with his presence, how his cymbals crash in the background of everything, vaulting it ever-forward.
Second on the list of building blocks is the bass. Oh god, the glorious bass! Whoever produced this album (seriously, who produced this album? I can’t find credits anywhere) must have had some stroke of genius. Was it Beck himself? Regardless of who the genius was, the results are impossible to deny. Everywhere on the album, the bass is not so much loud as it is dominant, not just magnificent in its volume but also in its self-awareness. Where the drums push things forward, the bass gives them sense, grounds them in a progression bigger than the sum of its parts. “golgotha” for example would have been a god damn mess of chords, leads and feedback if it wasn’t for the consistently jaw-dropping (get it?) bass work on it, constantly locating the listener within the onslaught.
Building up from the groove section, we arrive at the vocals. To put it plainly, Daryl Palumbo has never sounded better. On Material Control, more than any other instrument, there’s a pop-sludge/rock tinge to his vocals which is a joy to behold. “shira” for example, mainly because of his delivery, puts off a Meanderthal-era Torche vibe that is impossible to resist (best era Torche by the way, objectively speaking), poppy delivery blending in with the thunder of the groove section and guitars. Elsewhere, like on the chilling “strange hours”, this affectation is put off for a Greg Puciato-esque delivery that really sends the forlorn message of the track home. Palumbo exemplifies the approach on the album, preferring to shy away from a certain style or focus; instead, he utilizes whichever tools are appropriate for the moment, never once flinching away from the complex execution.
Lastly, and perhaps above all, Material Control just fucking works. Even when it goes weird and left-field (like on the brilliant “bastille day”, all savage preparation and pent up power), it somehow just flows. Nothing feels forced; it is as if Glassjaw have spent every second of the last fifteen years building up towards this point. In a way, they have. To create an album that can be this raw and yet this smooth and elegant, a special kind of trajectory is required. It is incredibly rare to find because it takes so much time and involves myriad psychological challenges; finding your voice is never easy. But Glassjaw, again, have done it and released an album that is nothing short of a modern classic. All hail the new control that is lack of control; all hail Material Control.
Material Control is available now. The album can be purchased digitally and streamed here.