Guitarist/vocalist Adam Watkins and bassist Matty Coonfield have been the anchors in the member-shifting Tone Rodent, a band that swerves from psych to shoegaze to no-wave without losing a thumbprint of foreboding ambiance. The current six-piece lineup locks in nicely on this four-song EP, with Ashley Hohman's backing vocals adding an ethereal underpinning reminiscent of those first few Black Mountain LPs. In an interview with the Riverfront Times' Joseph Hess earlier this year, Watkins recounted the band's fourteen-year history as well as its recent collaborations with underground legends Rosco (Spacemen 3) and Martin Atkins (Ministry, et al.). There's no such starpower here, and no need for it: The members play to their strengths while making a unified front. (However, Tone Rodent further shows its international appeal by releasing the document through Brazil's logorrheic record label The Blog That Celebrates Itself.)
Opening track "Sweet Sensation" might as well be an object lesson in how to build a shoegaze song: Instruments and layers begin to build slowly upon each other, from Mark Early's faint-sounding keyboard pattern to Watkins' and Hohman's call/response vocals, until the barriers dissolve into one roiling mass. "Phaze of Orleans" splits its '80s Anglophilia with a New Order bassline and some Disintegration-worthy guitar leads. Those interlocking parts, as well as the titular "phaze" that washes over the guitar tone, merges from a drone to shaker-driven jam on the track's final minutes. Watkins doesn't choose to drape his vocals in the woozy gauze of reverb and effects like many in his milieu; his straight-ahead, affectless baritone cuts right through the center of the stereo field with the same unblinking poetry of Lou Reed or Thurston Moore. This technique comes out clearest on the set-closing "Black Iron," which opens with little more than vocals and a spare, errant drumbeat. It's an off-putting intro that veers more toward dissonance by the time Hohman's Theremin begins to emit sci-fi squeaks. It's a slabby slice of monochrome to end an otherwise textured, colorful EP.
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