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Mr Sterile Assembly’s latest release Hulagu has been in the pipeline since March 2004 and kicks off a fundraising project to the get the band to the Czech Republic for an Eastern European tour in April of this year.
Mr Sterile Assembly have been likened to the masters of performance-orientated punk The Residents, The Ex, Rhythm Activism, Rudimentary Peni and Tism, and with Hulagu capture the theatrics and energy that is a Mr Sterile Assembly performance.
The lyrics move impressively from social commentary to the personal and poetic with manic speed, but it’s the variety of instrumentation that really impresses me. There’s everything from trumpets and trombones to cellos and clarinets and harmonicas, and then there’s the good ole’ guitar, bass and drums. And they aren’t just superfluous instruments, they make the music what it is.
What lets this album down is the vocals. I can see what they are trying to do – it’s the clashing, discordant vocals of Black Francis of the Pixies, or Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse that they seem to be striving for – but sometimes it just sounds forced and off key. The song ‘Feed the Machine’ in particular sounds very Pixie-esque.
Another thing that irked me was the heavy Kiwi accent prevalent from tracks 1-11. It was exaggerated and over the top, and sometimes just made me cringe with recognition. While I feel like I shouldn’t hold this up as something to dislike, because it seems so unpatriotic, I can’t help what I find aurally offensive.
At times, during Hulagu, there are real moments of promise, but it is mostly in the purely instrumental parts where Mr Sterile Assembly’s obvious talents in a multitude of varying instruments can be fully appreciated. The title track begins with a two minute instrumental introduction which was fantastic, but I have to admit that once the vocals began I flinched and had to skip the track.
While some fans may describe the vocals as extreme, I think a better description for them is harsh and off key. In saying that, I like what they are trying to do, and can appreciate the sound they were aiming for.
While I was tapping my toes at the beginning of this album, I don’t think it’s one I’ll be listening to over and over again, or even ever again.