A fairly normal thing to do upon receiving a new album from a new band, aside from just listening to the damn thing, is figure out who’s behind all the instruments. Okay, so we have Jussi Lehtisalo, bassist and founder of experimental rock group Circle, which has released over 40 albums since 1991. Wow! So the band must be from Finland, then. Next up is Jukka Kröger, who has played guitar in some lesser-known technical thrash bands in Finland, and along with him obviously comes a bit of German blood into the mix. Thirdly, I’d like to introduce Aaron Turner (just as the vinyl screeches to a halt,) from Isis? And last but not least is another Finn and multi-instrumentalist, Samae Koskinen. Oh, and did I mention that Split Cranium is a punk band? I can only assure you that by the end of this review, you’ll still be as utterly perplexed as I am.
Split Cranium plays a style of punk that’s painfully middle-of-the-road for Hydra Head Records, a label whose roster has undoubtedly been considered pretentious by fans of other albums that are well-within the realms of Split Cranium‘s initial sound. It’s also intriguing that musicians of this stature actually wanted to establish this transcontinental connection in order to produce what’s unfortunately a pretty boring punk record. But wait! Aaron Turner is in the band, so we’re all supposed to like it! I’m obviously being a facetious dick, but only because this record isn’t a complete piece of shit. In fact, there are two songs on it that really show the potential that a project as weird as this has, especially the album’s final track. So before we move forward, let’s establish that six of the album’s eight tracks are medicore at best, and fire them out the window like a pan of hot clam chowder. If you actually think this is good crust, it’s probably because you read too many album reviews on Pitchfork.
“Blossoms from Boils” is the first sign that Split Cranium is actually trying to do something unique. About a minute and a half into what starts off like another throwaway song comes a pretty classic, shitkickin’ rock ‘n’ roll riff accompanied by some cool effects that sound like staticky noise waves are starting to take over all of the producer’s computer. Clean vocals not unsimilar to those used by The Atlas Moth also become part of the droning sensation that begins to overtake the listener before the track fades out. The concluding track, “Retrace the Circle,” features the same basic principle as “Blossoms,” but the group expounds further upon the sound by finding equilibrium in the track’s pacing. (Think somewhere between classic rock and punk, almost giving the track a cool rockabilly or psychobilly effect.) The song is eight minutes long, double the length of the next-longest track on the record, and might just be one of the best damn songs I’ve heard from anyone all year. Repitition was always a key ingredient in Lehtisalo’s projects, so it makes perfect sense that Split Cranium peaks when the album is at its repetitive climax, if you will. Not to mention, the heavier the Aaron Turner’s influence is on the songs, the better they sound.
So is this thing worth buying? Well, that depends on whether you think getting an album for two of its eight songs is worth it. Despite what the stubborn cynic in me says, I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s worth it because Split Cranium is definitely onto something here. Yes, I’m sure that these guys have fun playing in a standard punk band, but save the bullshit for playing in the garage because it’s visible on this thing from a mile away. Luckily, so is the brilliance, and that’s what we need more of.