by Nick Duval
Sleight of Time comes packaged as part of an idiosyncratic series of cassettes from JMC Aggregate called “Organechs.” Aside from grouping acts that wouldn’t usually be included in the same discussion (the pulsating beat-makers Trabajo, the slow ambient jammers Cigarette), “Organechs” highlights the more experimental side of each participant’s output. For example, Palberta’s release features a delightfully patience-testing 13-minute vocal-and-children’s-keyboard jam that breaks down over and over again into peals of laughter; Palm’s contribution begins with an incongruous, quickly abandoned sample and ends with the band tuning their instruments. The series is altogether exceptional, but Big Neck Police put forward the most focused record of the bunch. Sleight of Time pushes indie guitar rock into a dark, occasionally discomforting realm; the pleasure is in allowing the band to steer you around. This is controlled chaos of the finest order.
The album opens with its strongest track, “The Sleight." The front half of the song is defined by a throbbing intensity, based around a mechanically picked guitar line that occasionally bursts open. The vocals come off as anguished but are tempered by the presence of multiple voices, as the band cryptically chants that “shame” and “flesh” are both “the way” and “in the way.” The vocal style is bizarre and immediately gripping; in contrast to the backdrop, it sounds like a cult ritual performed in a boiler room. It becomes clear early on that Big Neck Police can accomplish an incredible amount with a limited sonic palette. My dream would be to hear them compose a horror film score, as the best of that medium are as minimal and as visceral as this song’s first minutes. (Maybe they’d work well with Ben Wheatley, who navigates the same slippery terrain between creepiness and full-blown terror in pictures like Kill List and Sightseers.) Yet, it’s when “The Sleight” loosens its grip and evolves into a soundscape that it becomes truly stunning. Sliding guitars wheedle back and forth against a canvas of droning bass rumbles and apocalyptic feedback. The vocals are now the desperate howls of lead singer Paco Cathcart alone; he grapples with something it seems he’ll never understand (“Sleight of time! Again and again! What did you say?!”), reaching a climax but never achieving closure. There’s a thematic inscrutability about the song, a texture of deeply felt but hard-to-capture emotions, that makes it captivating.
The remainder of the record proves that this band is made up of skillful players and versatile composers. “Detritus Man Around” comes next, held down by Hugo Stanley’s deft drumming and Mac Kelly’s thick, persistent bassline, careening between snatches of melody and forceful dissonance. The prettier sections are alarming, appearing out of the surrounding anxiety before disappearing just as quickly; rarely do such innocuous chords carry as much tension as here. Essential to the success of the freewheeling dynamic here and elsewhere is Cathcart, who can sound near ethereal one moment and vicious the next. He could be loosely compared to D-Plan’s Travis Morrison or Grass is Green’s Andy Chervenak, but he is more genuinely unpredictable than either, at the end of his rope and barely keeping it together. He also works a brilliant contrast on guitar between vulnerable, post-rocky lines and distorted heft.
The other major highlights here are “Carousel” and “Glass Eye.” The former is the most accessible selection here, leaning on emo-inflected vocals and powerful, driving chords. At its apex, "Carousel" feels like an anthem; of course, it’s eventually undercut by a left-field ending that punctuates a soft mechanical drone with an interlude of blast beats. “Glass Eye” maintains a glorious depth of field through the careful manipulation of volume and stereo placement, as well as the employment of sampling and alternate instrumentation (bottles most prominently). It’s an intriguing closer that brings you into a unique space, before concluding with a little over 30 seconds of silence; up to their final salvo, the band defies convention. Sleight of Time, with its mixture of familiar rock sounds and bizarre tangents, is confounding. On the basis of this record, I have no idea what makes Big Neck Police tick. I sincerely hope I never find out.