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Review: Primitive Calculators – ON DRUGS

Primitive Calculators were a band. Then they weren’t a band. Then they released an album. Then they were once more a band. Then they released a new album. Then they released a new album that supplanted the previous album’s held status of “new”. I’ve probably missed a few things, but that should cover their history. Anyway, the new album is called ON DRUGS and it does not come in that format.

This time around there’s a lot less screaming. Stuart Grant croons, hisses and spits his lyrics but seldom reaches anything close to screaming. Throughout he brings forth mournful melancholic, angry, frustrated and bitter feelings as required whilst carrying across a kind of menace that compliments the nature of the music as well as its inherent aggression. Guest vocals are sparsely used and fit well whenever they’re featured.

Much of the lyrical content seems to be about the current state of society. Seemingly exploring the human condition, futility, the pursuit of something different among a slew of other things, the picture painted isn’t pretty. Rather than wax poetic, the words used aim more for clear message. It would be easy for these to devolve into cheese and thus not be taken seriously, but instead of drowning you or floating by the lyrics get through clearly and effectively.

There also seems to be some use of humour through irony and other means which does provide moments of levity before the weight of the lyrics really sets in. It’s interesting as to how it works (if it is indeed there), as the lyrics themselves aren’t subtle by a long shot, and yet some of the lyrical moments that could be perceived as more humorous in nature seem to soften the blow whilst making you think.

The music itself still follows strongly in the sounds of Primitive Calculator’s prior releases, but instead of following the template they’ve set out for themselves, they’ve co-opted their sounds into something else. The songs are more heavy on melody, boogie and funk elements. There’s less overt force and attack which leaves more room to dance.

The bass remains full and direct, but goes more for something more rhythmic and brooding. The percussion remains simple, being predominantly kick-focused, but at times there’s use of noise as an additional percussive element that adds a bit more of a sway to the beat.

However, the noisier elements work best at building atmosphere and giving the songs more impact.Whilst the guitars seem to stab, the noisier elements seem to bubble, throb and scrape. They aren’t necessarily expansive, but they do a lot to shape the songs by building on the inherent menace and dread of the songs.

Overall, ON DRUGS is an album that functions as a critique of parts of humanity and where it currently stands. It’s less in your face than previous releases, but has just as much impact. Primitive Calculators are still creating abrasive music, but it’s a different shade. Here they sound far less concerned with beating you over the head and more concerned with expressing their message in a way that gets through. A good way to hear this is by comparing the original version of “I Can’t Stop It” with the version heard here. The original was abrasive and almost amelodic. It came crashing into you. The new version still does, but it has a bit more going on. It does more to allow you to think about the content.

ON DRUGS is unmistakably a Primitive Calculators album. A lot of work went into it and it has paid off. ON DRUGS might be less overt, but it still expresses everything I t needs to and does so far more effectively than on previous releases.

ON DRUGS can be heard and bought here.

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