ROLO TOMASSI - GRIEVANCES (HOLY ROAR)
When I last went back to my mother’s house, she pointed me in the direction of a couple of boxes. It was a miscellaneous collection of items left behind when I moved out around 15 years ago. Her intention was that I throw most of it away, but instead I submerged myself in the memories that the inspection awoke.
The main culprit in this indulgence was the diary I kept to document the year 2000, which was also the year I turned 18. In the preceding Christmas holiday, my friends and I decided that, for as long as we could, we should get drunk every day of the new century. This was not a sensible or maintainable plan, but by March we’d managed 32 of 60 days. By August, I’d developed alcohol poisoning and was an absolute mess.
Indelibly marked on these pages was my first experience of love, death, loneliness and the intense joy that you can only experience surrounded by your best and oldest friends. I wrote a lot of things that again brought a smile to my face, as well as a lot of things that sought profundity but were instead profoundly clichéd. All these thoughts were once mine and I’ll always love the kid who birthed them, but they bear no relation to my current state. Mostly I’m just wildly swinging at empty air, and mostly I’m just glad they never escaped to an audience wider than one.
Rolo Tomassi have never had that luxury. Eva Spence was just 14 when they formed, and the records they produced were set free for all to hear. Whether they feel any sense of embarrassment about their early output is unclear (although Eternal Youth suggests they don’t), but they share the same ground as us all. None of us are the same as we used to be.
Technical skill has never been lacking, and even with the recent shedding of founding members, their distinct identity has prevailed. Every album they’ve released has been better than the last. Sometimes, though, it seemed like that proficiency was in service to nothing higher than their next live show. Astraea was impressive, yes, but Deafhaven released Sunbather three months later. Those untouchable proclamations about the future of heavy music were suddenly landing in San Francisco, not Sheffield.
Grievances arrives with a potent fury. Unlike its predecessors, there’s no scene-setting comfort and concession. Brutal rhythms ricochet off blunt guitars while both Eva and James Spence spit naked bile over the top. There’s an intensity here that long-term Tomassi listeners will recognise, but it’s been markedly altered. The rage is dark, focused and unrepentant. They’re taking this endeavour very seriously indeed, painting a bleak landscape that will not diminish over the course of the record: “I closed the door and kept the darkness in.”
Everything runs into everything else and blistering tempos mesh with sombre piano and string interludes, entirely without warning but never unwelcome. It’s immediately apparent that this is a painstakingly crafted, meticulously planned, singular piece of work. Its scope is that of a post-rock or classical LP, and were the content split into three suites rather than 11 tracks, nothing would suffer. In England, to do this is to risk ridicule. We call these things pretentious like we have any idea what the word means, instead intending to demean any achievement that may arise from ambition grander than our own.
On ‘Crystal Cascades,’ following the assault of ‘Stage Knives’ the band have the audacity to abruptly turn into Ride. Nor does this metamorphosis creep meekly into view – it actually swaggers with each volume swell. Amid this conviction, it also manages to be wholly affecting. By the time final catharsis arrives in the shape of ‘All That Has Gone Before,’ you’re genuinely exhausted yet simultaneously unable to walk away.
This is a collection with no weak spots and no seams, utterly complete from spine to spine. In short, it’s the album they’ve always threatened to make and the one which we’ve always demanded of them. Crucially, it’s also much more than that. Rolo Tomassi have been many things, and they’ve always been great, but they’ve never been essential and they’ve never been beautiful. On Grievances, amid all the violent outpouring of pain and grief, they somehow find it difficult to be anything but.