lespecial “Omnisquid” – Album Review

Purchase and stream your copy of lespecial’s Omnisquid here:

Omnisquid is the immersive, full-length album from New England’s most resilient and dexterous band, lespecial. Almost three years after the release of their Ceremony EP, the band’s infectious melodies and prog-rock/funk/jamtronica aggregation has imbued onto the musical lives of fans spread all over the country. There is nothing quite like a headlining lespecial set at a music festival, as the trio commands the attention of anyone with an ear for instrumentation and innovation, or anyone with ears for that matter. On Omnisquid, the band showcases the growth that Rory Dolan (drums), Jonathan Grusauskas (guitar/synth/vocals/sampler), and Luke Bemand (bass/vocals/synth) have experienced as musicians. No longer are they simply understudies of their  influences (Primus, King Crimson and Nine Inch Nails, to name a few), the sound and style they have created is all their own. Playing heavy sounds, creating polyrhythms, and doing weird things with time signatures has been done for decades, but not by young minds quite like these North West Connecticut virtuosos. The band has been joined onstage on a number of occasions this year by Ed Mann (Frank Zappa alum) and recently jammed with Billy Martin (Medeski Martin and Wood) at the Omnisquid release party. The record does hold a loose concept explained by Luke Bemand in an interview with Lost in Sound last month, “Extra terrestrials telepathically controlling giant squids that are rising from the depths of the oceans to bring mass destruction. It’s a play on the basic human fear of what we cannot see and what lies beneath the surface. With aliens and squids.” Peep the album artwork by Feather Blass for an incredible visual aid.

To begin this journey, we allow ourselves to experience the “Fruit Wolf Dance.” Two minutes into its nearly nine minutes, we get waylaid by a whole new lespecial energy missing from previous releases. The whole goddamn earth feels like it’s cracking open, heavy and unapologetic as a song by Mastadon. I mean to say that that ish is CONFIDENT. Then Rory Dolan briefly hits us with the familiar sound of tribal percussion, reminding us it’s them Connecticut boys. The fatty, synth heavy breakdown includes some real interesting sounds, reminding me of that lespecial/Space Jesus collab track “HMU”. The following tune, “Squid Rising”, evokes smiling faces and sunny dispositions. Don’t worry, you won’t get much more of that on this album. High tones and a rising energy get the listener psyched. I think this is what we could call a more ‘prog-rock’ moment from the band, not that they ever really stray from that classification. Orchestration and time signatures are all over the map, stretching our musical minds. Not sure where they dug up the vocal sample about a giant squid controlled by otherworldly freaks, but it’s gold. “Omnisquid” is math rock, lespecial style. Pulsing, pounding, incessant. I totally dig Jon’s repetitive and delayed riffage, finally fading off into arpeggio land.

Is that Reznor? Or Squarepusher? Ah no, of course it’s Rob Uslan. The scattered and sharply textured electronic drum programming on “Optimus Prime Slot” reek of Supersillyus after a night of heavy geeking and a couple of Rush live DVDs. The addition of the trio’s instrumentals makes it all the more interesting with wobbling distortion bites, and sustained atmospheric bass. My ears perked at that beautifully eerie, simple encircling riff from Grusauskas. The title suggests a play on words, with the song ultimately describing conniving venue promoters telling musicians of that primo time slot they’ve prepared for them. ‘If we do well, you’ll get more. Let’s see what comes through the door.’ “Sugaboi” is ultimately the sequel to the final track on the band’s last release Ceremony. I literally thought it was the same tune, with the drum n bass style and the mellow guitar and bassline. It also happens to feature a confused old man vocal sample. It’s not that the production or level of play isn’t awesome, it’s just that I’m not too sure this tune couldn’t just be considered “filler.”  

“Leaps Evil” features a strong show of strength from Bemand’s bass. Buzzing effects make for a weird electro bassline, almost womp but not quite. His compelling rhythms and tonal versatility not only coats the song with a beautiful low-end but also successfully drives the melody. After spending the past few years developing his chops in a variety of other live acts such as Schlang Live Band, Supersillyus Life Band, and Nu-Mind, if there is one area where his marks have improved the most it is Courage. If there was ever a time where Luke was unsure if the stage was his calling, it is now a thing of the past. ‘Who are you? What am I? Life is weird, and so are you,’ wails Grusauskas.

All of lespecial truly stands out on this song, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever really heard. If there are a few things this old Gonzo general knows, it’s that life is weird, and so are lespecial.

“Ships in the Night,” the only track not produced at More Sound Recording Studio in Syracuse, was instead created at The Music Cellar and Morrison Gallery, and is something all new from lespecial. More like an art exhibit than a banger. A dissonant soundtrack to the dream of a stunned sailor. “New Fish,” the only single teased before the album release, now sounds like a classic I’ve been spinning for years. The crew’s staccato and off-beat play are super effective, as that maraca warms us up for a rising action. Then Dolan’s shirt flies off and the metal core double bass and breakneck sticks go to work.

On “Pressed for Time,” lespecial goes all Battles-does-Fungi and Foe on us. With precision like trigonometry on the beats, the boys make the statement that they are only getting more capable, and are reaching new highs. Then that mesmeric falsetto takes hold, ‘Pressed for time, time for tea. Tea for two, me and you.’ By now, the song has turned toward the realm of nu-jazz, before delivering us back unto that weighty progressive kick that is so prevalent on the second half of the album.

With a name like “Absolutely Stunning,” the listener can imagine the protagonist confronting the climax of his ordeal, albeit with said Omniquid, or the brainy extraterrestrials that control it and…us? Bemand described the inspiration behind the song, ‘It tells the story of a fisherman who witnesses something he’s not sure he believes, which gives way to something catastrophic with much bigger implications. We wanted it to be ambiguous, but also cohesive and cinematic.’ A lovely, lulled beginning makes way for another heavy, slow breakdown. The disturbingly dark cello progression from Julian Lenz seems to foretell doom, as it seems to be played by a cellist on the brink. ‘We know what we saw, don’t tell us that we don’t.  It came up, from the lake, crystalline, seismic shockwaves’. The album concludes with the sound of a post-apocalyptic radio wire. I’m officially ready for that Independence Day 2 trailer.

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