avoid!avoid: Particle and Wave LP | 2016
avoid!avoid, the name tells some of the story. They are obviously not a pop band waiting on your clicks. With a tricky band name like that they might just be a tad coy. Not being all that needy might be nearer the mark. They weren't ones for fuss, they just wanted to keep their heads down and play adventurous krauty rock music.
Steve Reay and Brendan Moran are from the edgier musical world of the mathematical and the calculated, of precise and repeated beats and ceaseless machine-like sounds. Brendan was in the 1990s racket makers, The Hasselhoff Experiment and then The Subliminals with Steve Reay. Sonya Waters was in The Instigators and writer of their anthemic masterpiece 'Hope She’s Alright’ (Ripper, 1982) before serving time with both Fang and White Swan Black Swan with Ben Howe (Superette).
The Subliminals, with Simon McLaren and Jared Johanson, was a band of big hypnotically looping sounds churned by a driving rhythm section and fronted by two confrontational guitars and occasional urgent repetitive singing. The music always sounded exciting, a touch more rock than avoid!avoid, like it was teetering on the brink of collapse. After an EP and a fine album, the band disintegrated.
Steve kept his guitar ready while Brendan struggled to pack up his drums and put them behind him. Eventually, this was 2015, Steve got him back on his drum stool and avoid!avoid was born. After a practice or two, Steve and Brendan decided the minimal and austere sounds they were making could do with some musical enhancement and thought some bass notes would better connect and fill out the sound. A bass synth could provide the bass sounds they wanted as well as some melody and it was known that Sonya could sing really well so she was the obvious talented musician to ask to join.
Sonya had gradually moved away from her rock band beginnings, worked her way through teaching music and tripped into the creatively liberating world of the electronic and synthy. avoid!avoid was her first public outing with the electronic and the instruments she was playing were bass synths. The Waldorf Blofeld with its gritty grunt and the Dave Smith Mopho to be precise. With lots of different sounds achievable the band's output soon became maximal rather than the intended minimal.
The avoid!avoid idea was that it would be an evolution from the previous work in The Subliminals with jamming and a search for new riffs as the starting place. The ‘motorik’ feel is intentional and the drum-driven characteristic is central to the band's sound. The drumming is expertly unrelenting, reinforced with bass synth notes and overlaid by slabs of tone and/or texture by Steve and Sonya. Synth-generated shapes of sound that wash or reverberate or a single line or a rhythmic stack of feedback courtesy of Steve. It's designed to be simple but there is a lot going on.
Particle and Wave album cover
Particle and Wave was recorded in Steve's lounge and mixed by Ben Greenberg at Python Patrol Recording in New York City. An unusual arrangement in a world where bands like to be near each and every step of making a record. Here it worked well. It’s a remarkably clean and clear-sounding album. The title Particle and Wave (as in the wave-particle duality where every quantum entity is a particle or a wave) suits the precision-mathy feel of the band and their music, while the reality has a bit more of the earthy organic in the mix. Brendan, being artistic, put the cover together and while it looks a little math rock the discernible music genre influence that is embraced is the Kraut Rock motorik.
The album itself? ‘Polytechnik’ kicks off with a tone, clicky drums, heavy bass synth and sliding guitar and it mutates from there, the evolution of the sound is subtle, almost organic. ‘Flybussen’ is more fragmented, the beat heavier, the nearest we have to vocals, a journey. The music video for this is simple but stunningly shot by Steve Reay on a GoPro (out of a bus window) while travelling from Oslo central to the airport. ‘Flybussen’, get it? airport bus. ‘Ultra Deep Field' starts in a serene place before darker sounds and rhythms start to impose themselves. ’Drones’ is unrelentingly oncoming with Sonya’s anguished vocals intermittently shouted over the top. Look at the superb computer-generated video by Gregory Bennett and it would appear the Ukraine war was accurately predicted in 2016. ’Low Earth Orbit’ kicks off to another kind of beat which is soon joined by krauty wiggles of backwards guitar while the whole 8 minutes of musical meandering continues to twist. The song ‘Avoid Avoid’ (the title of which has a different construction to the band name avoid!avoid) starts off a bit like The Subliminals with all three instruments in rhythmic sync soon joined by vocals and a helter-skelter guitar against a scribbled wall of distortion and snakes of feedback. I like it all.
Particle and Wave is avoid!avoid’s only release. Once completed, Sonya moved to Wellington and Brendan to Helsinki leaving Steve in Auckland. Brendan is back from Helsinki now and word has it that Steve and Brendan are playing together again.