Material Control is the first full length release from Glassjaw in over 15 years, and when a band with a reputation level like theirs waits so long to release new work, it builds up some serious excitement as well as pretty high expectations. Formed in 1993, the Long Islanders managed to become heavyweights in the world of noisy hardcore music off the back of just 2 other LP’s released in 2000 and 2002 on labels Roadrunner and Warner Bros. respectively, along with a few EP’s scattered around various other years. A visceral, crisp and seductive sound was the kind of thing Glassjaw became known for over the years and the band have damn near mastered that gorgeous sound this time round with Material Control.
All the music on the album was written by long-time guitarist and multi instrumentalist Justin Beck, all lyrics by Daryl Palumbo, and the guys also managed to recruit drumming behemoth Billy Rymer of The Dillinger Escape Plan for the album. Both guitar and bass duties to fell to Justin Beck and by having both guitars handled by the same person, as well as only three members recording the bulk of the album, ideas could have easily ended up seeming stretched. But to Beck’s strength, he seemed to know exactly what was needed in order to compliment each instrument differently.
On the first song on the album New White Extremity, we’re greeted with everything this album is about at full bore. The backline instruments all weigh in with a gorgeous, slinky and bouncy riff, with some super hard effects hooked up to the guitar and bass, switching between all sorts of guitar breaks and bends. With tones and atmospheres ranging from some Rage Against The Machine to even Jane’s Addiction, but with a modern viciousness to it. Even sounding at times not far off fellow Long Island hardcore monsters Stray From The Path, giving a great sense of development to their sound, considering Stray had barely even been formed at the time of Glassjaw’s last release. Immediately after the first track, there is Shira. Another complete banger reinforcing the bands power, the track features some evil dissonant guitar chords wailing over a sliding bassline, beautiful vocal melodies, and a great little polyrhythmic outro, sounding like a song Red Hot Chili Peppers might produce if they were from the East Coast and had been sat in a room with Tool on loop for 100 days. While this assault of East Coast alternative noisy hardcore is stellar, packed full of unusual and chaotic effects and loops with tracks like Golgotha and Pompeii, we do see a more vulnerable and stripped back version of Glassjaw for a few moments.
The track Strange Hours takes a step back from the aggression and is probably one of my favourite cuts on the record. It features a warm syncopated bass riff that steadies the track beautifully, while Daryl Palumbo hits some lovely vocal melodies with some nice harmonies layered in, with some great shimmering guitar work and effects from Justin, with some even better sparse percussion work from Billy. Overall the track is a really haunting and sexy slow dance that sets itself apart from the rest of the album really well. The other cut that stands out from the rest of the tracklisting for me is the title track Material Control. While I know Bastille Day is another great instrumental interlude with some interesting percussion, somehow breaking the album apart nicely whilst still sounding very natural, Material Control was the one for me. A short instrumental interlude that sits in the penultimate spot on the album, and it’s seriously fucking awesome. The track rolls along for a minute and a half with some fantastic snare delay and reverb on a super simplistic but effective 4/4 kick snare hat drum beat, which leaves Justin all the space in the world to just open up every few bars with this flowery and massively trippy guitar lick with a few thumping filtered and fuzzed up bass notes underneath for good measure, closing out for the finisher of the album Cut and Run.
Now while the album’s style and flow is its main highlight, some of Palumbo’s lyrics on the project are fantastic too, helping this become a pretty cohesive project. As mentioned before with Strange Hours we hear some pretty cold and nihilistic lyrics that are delivered with beautiful precision, keeping in tone of the album nicely. And there are also some real heavy screamers on here too, with tracks like Shira and Citizen. In particular though, New White Extremity kicked off the record with some great lyrical content. “You are my, homewrecker bleeding the last one”. Being from New York City, as you can imagine, the song covers what it says in the title. Palumbo seems to be tackling the concerning issue of gentrification in this song, where neighbourhoods in NYC such as Harlem, known for being an incredible base of African-American culture over the last 100 years, including producing some of the greatest and finest black musicians and in the world, has seen it’s white population increase fivefold over the last decade, and decline from a massive 97% in the 1950’s. I think by covering an important issue like this, shows that the band are taking things seriously even after so long out of the game, and puts them back up there next to their contemporaries, musically and lyrically.
Overall, Glassjaw come through with a genuinely captivating record in Material Control. They haven’t left the listener with many questions or complaints. With many of the 12 tracks under the 3-minute mark, and the total run time at a cool 37 minutes, the album stays for just the right amount of time, and can easily blur past the listener in the first listen, in the best way possible. This aggressive, swirling, composed animal of an album, is an excellent comeback for the band who haven’t had a full length release in over 15 years, and certainly makes me hope that their next one comes a lot sooner.
Highlights: New White Extremity, Material Control, Shira and Strange Hours.
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Reviewed by Harrison Deacon