Rolo Tomassi is a band that’s difficult to describe. Their sound has been ever-evolving—starting out as chaotic, experimental, genre-blending post-hardcore—but continually focusing into something uniquely their own.
For the past 7 years, the band has been exploring the tension between tenderness and brutality with a self-described “unintentional trilogy” of albums. The first—2015’s Grievances—mostly thrashes with aggression. 2018’s Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It brightened with the increased juxtaposition of harshness and softness, and now—on this year’s Where Myth Becomes Memory—the contrast is at its highest. Whereas songs from the previous two albums would mix brutal and tender sounds into the same song to great effect, Where Myth Becomes Memory reaches further, more deliberately pushing each end of the spectrum—especially the softness—to stand even more on their own, all while pulling threads of each across the middle ground.
The result is an album that keyboardist and band co-founder James Spence describes as “confident.” I’d say that’s accurate; it certainly takes guts to put a creaky piano outro right up against a swell of chainsaw guitar (“Mutual Ruin” ➞ “Labyrinthine”). But the word that kept coming back to me after a few listens was “coherent.” Not that their past work—and especially Time Will Die—wasn’t coherent, it’s just that this album strikes me as so much more. The sonic palette is intentional and restrained, making the whole record feel the most like a thematically related suite of songs than any of the other albums.
The lyrics are a major part of that cohesiveness. Vocalist and band co-founder Eva Korman has always shown a gift for poetry, but the lyrical content on this album has scaled up to full-on world-building. Though their exact meaning is opaque, the words are nevertheless painterly, evocative, and pensive. I have literally laid awake in bed at night with a lyric looping in my mind, wondering what it all means, but also sitting with a certain sense of understanding—like hearing someone speak in a foreign language but feeling completely keyed into their sentiment, despite not understanding a word. Eva is famously reticent about explaining her lyrics; all we get out of her is that the album is about “rebirth, exploration, and finding your way.” The weight of those themes comes through in even the most cryptic of lyrics.
As much as I liked the singles that preceded the album release, I was not prepared for how much I was going to love this album as a whole; the industrial, shredded-through-helicopter-blades guitar sound of “Labyrinthine” and “To Resist Forgetting”, the bittersweet respite of “Closer”, the punishing grind of “Prescience”, the anxious hope of “The End Of Eternity”, and the continued exploration of mind-bending time signatures (13/10??? Who does that?). There are so many beautiful moments gliding through the undertow, and some of the heaviest grooves the band has ever laid down. The dynamic range is absolutely maxed out.
The standout track for me has to be “Drip”. The first time I heard it, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it; drummer Al Pott snaps that snare like a metronome for what feels like an eternity before the missing pieces of the beat start to fade in—a dissonant melange of percussion that makes absolutely no sense, until it does. It’s the most tense, unhinged run on the record and grants no quarter, immediately shifting the tension into a frenetic, chugging riff that doesn’t let up until eventually arriving at a much-needed oasis of calm & clean vocals before resuming the assault. It’s exhausting in the best way.
Listening to all three albums in a row, the production here really stands out, too. Grievances sounds like everyone is right on top of their microphones. Time Will Die sounds like a larger room, capturing more atmosphere, but Where Myth Becomes Memory sounds absolutely massive. The air between everything is as much of an instrument as anything else. Mercy. Somebody give the producer a
Grammy BRIT Award already.
If I were to introduce anyone to Rolo Tomassi with one album, this would be it. I think Time Will Die will always be my favorite of theirs—and one that I also highly recommend—but Where Myth Becomes Memory so crispy captures everything there is to understand about this unusually eclectic band that no further explanation is needed.
It’s all here.