Liquid Casing - A Separate|Divide
Release Date: June 25, 2013
Record Label: Self-Released
Right from the moment a sludgy guitar cuts across the silence at the beginning of Liquid Casing’s latest record, titled A Separate|Divide, it’s clear that these guys aren’t interested in giving listeners something lightweight. Opening cut, “A Path of Footprints Forged in the Midnight Sun” is a chaotic collision, an atomic rush of a song that collects thrumming bass, thrashing drums, acrobatic, reverb-drenched guitar parts, and vocals that seem to sit just underneath a layer of distortion. In an age built on the shoulders of autotune and studio corrections, Liquid Casing are a breath of fresh air. These guys aren’t afraid to hit a few bum notes here and there, or for entire passages of their songs to come across like elaborate improvisation pieces derived from nothing more glamorous than explosive warm-up sessions, and that freewheeling sensibility makes them interesting.
Case-in-point is the second track, “Alambrisa,” whose most ear-catching component is a withering saxophone solo. But sax isn’t used like this very often. The track is a sonic battlefield, playing out between Okikiolu Olufokunbi’s jazz-club-gone-to-hell saxophone licks and frontman Alvaro Rodriguez’s stratospheric guitar solos. Neither member dominates the texture of the song, but that’s hardly by design. When I think of saxophone solos, I don’t think of free-form jazz improvisation, but of the meticulous, virtuosic compositions that Clarence Clemons added to the music of Bruce Springsteen before his death in 2011. Liquid Casing is nothing like that. Where Clemons’ solos were moments of centerpiece force, the members of this band are rarely willing to abdicate a moment in the spotlight to anyone else. These four guys don’t play in tandem so much as they push each other to work in contest with one another, building arrangements out of collisions and conflicts between instrumental parts rather than between harmonies and connections.
The above descriptions keep A Separate|Divide compelling throughout its appreciable 58-minute runtime, though they also result in one of the more exhausting listens you’re likely to come across this year. The most accessible moments of the album probably come with the aforementioned opener—“A Path of Footprints Forged in the Midnight Sun”—with its stadium-sized guitar parts and dizzying atmospherics. Listeners will find other moments of solace within the album’s constant thrum and scrape—the mechanical bassline of “For a Memory Erased,” for example, or the confessional calm of “Checkpoints and Borders,” or perhaps the orchestral haunt of closer “Riot Path”—but for the most part, A Separate|Divide is a punishingly heavy record, and one that might not necessarily find a place in your stereo during these lighter and brighter summer months. Don't worry if it doesn't: these songs were made for fall and winter.
From a purely musical standpoint, it’s hard to fault Liquid Casing. Each member of this band is a technically-astounding musician, and hearing them all play together—both with and against one another—makes for a riveting listening experience. The band’s weakest links, in fact, are the few-and-far-between instances of lyrics and vocals. Rodriguez earns his frontman status on his lightning-in-a-bottle guitar skills, not on the unpolished and questionably-pitched vocals that pepper several of the album’s key tracks. The vocal parts are there to serve a function more than anything else, to give lyrical voice to the album’s concept which the band claims is to “explore the politics of division” and “expose our lack of unity and its consequences.” But considering the nature of Liquid Casing’s music, the fascinating balance they continually strike between playing music as a team and playing music as combatants in some wider game, I have a feeling we would have gotten the point regardless.