It takes very little time for Grievances to prove that Rolo Tomassi is not a typical mathcore band. The Sheffield quintet – fronted by siblings Eva (vocals) and James (vocals/keyboards) – approaches the genre with a much more detail-oriented mission; an multifaceted approach drawing from screamo, post rock, shoegaze and electronics as much – if not more than – their base genre. Grievances makes this point abundantly clear, as the band’s heavily rooted Dillinger Escape Plan influences often share the spotlight within textured compositions often made up of multiple movements. While this formula produces some excellent moments, it is also plays host to some issues of structure exacerbated by some instrumental weaknesses, coming together to produce an enjoyable but flawed final product.
After the straightforward Dillinger worship of album opener “Estranged,” second track “Raumdeuter” introduces the first instances of Eva’s clean vocals, duties she shares with James throughout the album. The track concludes with a bursting crescendo of saccharine female vocals and shoegaze, separated from the mathcore first half by a sudden and awkward electronic interlude. Truthfully, what Rolo Tomassi excel at on Grievances is this melodic, soaring display of shoegaze laden post rock, most evident with the gorgeous duo of “Prelude III: Phantoms” and “Opalescent.” The former track builds with haunting piano and a duet between Eva and James before melting into the latter offering, a swirl of ethereal soundscapes that finishes in a whirl of rapid drumming that elevates the music towards the very cusp of blakcgaze. Later on in the album, another pair of tracks – “Crystal Cascades” and “Chandelier Shiver” – provides a lush landscape of strings, piano and ambient guitar that would fit comfortably within a Godspeed You! Black Emperor piece. Occasionally, the band will marry their chaotic and beautiful sides into a single song, which finds the most success on the perfectly blended “Stage Knives,” perhaps the most complete and well-written track on the album for this reason.
Unfortunately, the album’s title is not a misnomer, as there are quite a few shoddy elements to dissect. While the soft, vulnerable vocals of Eva and James inarguably compliment Rolo Tomassi’s compositions, neither of them singswith a great deal of passion and often come across as somewhat lifeless and flat. They both tend to merely wander within the tracks in which they sing and fail to truly soar with a commanding presence. Eva’s growls are solid when utilized, but they are usually the best part of the track when they appear due to the band’s somewhat bland approach to mathcore. There is little more to comment on these sections than to acknowledge the obvious Dillinger worship, and their sole salvager comes with the juxtaposition with the band’s more ambient passages. This is not always a certainty, though, as closing tracks “Funereal” and “All That Has Come Before” – particularly the latter – do not produce an overly invigorating final product in the same way that “Stage Knives” does. And in terms of synthesis, the band makes some odd choices in terms of pacing. The two pairings listed in the previous paragraph could have easily been condensed into single tracks, and the brief, twangy, reverbed guitar interlude of “Unseen & Unknown” feels unnecessary on its own and should have been added to the beginning of “Stage Knives.” None of this is an issue if the album is experienced as a single product, but considering the other issues discussed here, it may have been beneficial for the band to have assessed the excess and shortcomings of Grievances in order to pen a few more worthwhile tracks.
It is unfortunate to levy so many criticisms at Grievances, for the things that Rolo Tomassi do well manifest into pleasant offerings of pretty sounds and the occasional well-balanced mathcore hybrid. Yet, it is also difficult to ignore the weakness in performance and songwriting that Rolo Tomassi demonstrate, as well as 2015 offerings from Bandit (here) and Marriages (here) that excel more so at what Grievances can be commended for. Grievances is an album worth a spin for anyone interested in any of the aforementioned styles, but there is no guarantee that they will be inclined to revisit the album many more times afterward.
Rolo Tomassi’s Grievances Gets…