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Tonally Fucked Up

Normal Love and Little Old Man, Red Room at Normals Books and Records, Aug. 26

Jefferson Jackson Steele
Normal Love adds it up.

By Jess Harvell | Posted 8/30/2006

If anything connects 20th-century classical music with heavy metal, it’s practice, practice, practice. Leaving aside hairstyle choices, how different are a cellist spending six months mastering the chaos theory of a Brian Ferneyhough score and a guitarist spending six months in Mom’s basement on Trey Azagoth’s solos, really? Post-serialist composition and death metal are both the province of virtuosos, even if one looks like someone who just took a paintball gun to some staff paper and the other sounds like, well, death metal. So when the Red Room announced that Philadelphia’s Normal Love had blended the two, it sounded like a mathematical musical match made in heaven.

Of course, being the Red Room, there was nary a metalhead to be seen. Opener Little Old Man--Kate Porter on cello, Stewart Mostofsky on electronics, Dan Breen on electronics and vocal manipulation, and Eric Franklin on various devices--didn’t sound much like metal, or anything else really. The highlight of their three electro-acoustic improvisations were the moments when Porter and Franklin, bowing a saw or a cymbal, traded long, groaning glissandi that sounded like they were plucked from the unwritten score of an unfilmable horror flick. Second-best moment came when Breen let out a squawk and Franklin stomped the floor with both feet to announce a piece was over, helpful in music where beginnings and endings are not always so readily apparent.

With the five young members of Normal Love in Converge T-shirts and fauxhawks, seated in front of their music stands, flipping pages of their compositions, hammering away at their convoluted time signatures, the performance looked like a cross between school orchestra and garage band. There were definitely riffs, but the blast beats and distorted solos were nowhere to be heard. The result was less death metal than good ol’ math rock, like Don Caballero at its most anal-retentive mixed with the scrabbling modal chaos of Coptic Light, especially when the violinist decided to start playing like his violin was one of those guitars that’s, like, a double guitar. Satan and Schoenberg probably wouldn’t have been pleased, but fans of algebraically complex rock would have found much to love in Normal Love’s heaving three-note contraptions and whiplash rhythms. This was metal for slide rules and graphing calculators. And it was definitely the most conventionally rocking music we’ll hear at the Red Room all year. You could even bang your head to it. You’d just get a serious crick in your neck.

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