Local Music Review: Yak Strangler

In Music, Music Reviews, Music Stories by Matthew Everettleave a COMMENT

Yak Strangler
Fist Pump at the Pearly Gates
“Burned Bread Alarm,” the first track on Yak Strangler’s new album, opens with a short, jagged, jazzy guitar riff over a drum roll, followed by a brief guitar solo that suggests, in just a few bars, a blender full of Eddie Van Halen, Frank Zappa, the Butthole Surfers’ Paul Leary, psychedelic mushrooms, and Pat Metheny. Over the next half hour, guitarist Chris Newman and drummer/vocalist Rylan Bledsoe churn through a frantic and slightly demented mash-up of post-punk, art rock, funk, and whatever else seems to cross their minds when they’re writing songs together.

Welcome to Fist Pump at the Pearly Gates, the noise-pop/prog-punk twosome’s chaotic, bewildering, and abrasive second album (or third, if you count The Duplex Dough-Sheeting Machine, the band’s five-track, 24-minute Fig Newton-themed song cycle from 2014). Fist Pump is also one of the most purposeful and impressive local underground releases of the last several years. The jammy, indulgent tendencies the band displayed on its previous records have given way to a singular, if weird, artistic vision.

Casual listeners will likely find Yak Strangler in general, and Fist Pump in particular, to be a challenging listen. Newman is a brainy, technical player, but he doesn’t seem interested in conventional prettiness or accessible melody; he pursues his own relentless logic on Fist Pump, chasing muddy tones, dissonance, bent notes, odd harmonies, Beefheart blues licks, and whammy bar acrobatics.

Bledsoe, who is the son of News Sentinel music writer Wayne Bledsoe and also plays in the CrumbSnatchers, is equally proficient, managing to keep idiosyncratic rhythms underneath the guitarist’s unpredictable detours and providing unexpected flourishes of his own. Bledsoe also sings here, a departure for the previously all-instrumental Yak Stranglers. He has a declamatory but impassioned style, part Keith Morris, part Steven Malkmus, that adds an acerbic, emotional dimension to the band’s otherwise wonkish approach.

Senior Editor Matthew Everett manages the Knoxville Mercury's arts & entertainment section, including the comprehensive calendar section—Knoxville’s go-to guide for everything worth doing in the area. You can reach Matthew at matthew@knoxmercury.com.

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