The liner notes to Songs About Fucking, the final album by influential US noise-punks Big Black, credit band members Steve Albini and Melvin Belli with contributing 'guitar skinng' and 'guitar grr', respectively. Shield Your Eyes share Big Black's fixation with producing abrasive, unconventional sounds; their absorbing new record Theme From Kindness features quite a lot of skinng, and a fair bit of grr too. One suspects that, like so many contemporary purveyors of the noisy, experimental rock music which genre geeks call 'post-hardcore', they grew up listening to Albini's music.
This is not to suggest that Shield Your Eyes are mere copyists. On the contrary, they bend and shape their influences into interesting new forms. They deliberately dissipate hardcore punk's propulsive energy, creating rambling, messy songs which continually shoot off in odd directions. Think of it like this: whereas Big Black's music strode up to the listener and slapped them in the face, Theme From Kindness circles menacingly around them before unexpectedly darting in and kissing them on the cheek. Then it slaps them in the face.
If this makes their music sound a little bewildering, then that's because it is. Listening to Shield Your Eyes can be a perplexing, alienating experience. Their songs jump chaotically around, rarely settling in one place for any length of time. The opening track, 'I Took My Lead From You And Your Kindness', consists of a series of isolated, disconnected fragments of sound. Someone plucks an acoustic guitar randomly. A harmonica arrives, then disappears again, arbitrarily. A cat meows. None of this ever settles into something with a discernible structure. They follow this up with 'Pneulope' (sic), a screeching, clanging post-punk panic attack, and 'Baby You Made A KX250 Out Of Me', which sounds (as the title suggests) like a ballad written by an angry cyborg. Things don't get any easier as the album progresses: 'Olivers Wharf', for instance, is a punk song in the same way that Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon is a painting of prostitutes. It unexpectedly twists, turns and leaps in odd directions, continually refusing to let the listener get comfortable.
The band have no interest in playing music which is comfortable or comforting: one listen to Stef Ketteringham's frantic yelps and whines and Henri Grimes' rattling, skittish drumming provides enough evidence of that. Emotional engagement isn't their thing. They don't seem especially interested in provoking any dancing or moshing either, mostly eschewing repetition and riffing for barely-controlled chaos. This adds to the album's oddness: it's a collection of urgent rock songs, but the band want to engage you intellectually rather than physically. Listening to the record quietly on headphones in order to pick out interesting textures is a far more rewarding experience than playing it loudly in the expectation of immediate thrills.
Fans of underground American rock will enjoy Theme From Kindness. Besides Big Black, one can hear echoes of bands like Cap'n Jazz, Q And Not U, Shellac, and This Heat. It's not an easy record to listen to, and it's certainly not an immediate album, but it rewards with perseverance.