Robocobra Quartet - Music For All Occasions (Abbreviated Records)

Having slipped through the reviewing net at the tail end of 2016, this album is far too good to allow to languish undiscovered

Released Nov 1st, 2016 / By Norman Miller
Robocobra Quartet - Music For All Occasions (Abbreviated Records) Formed in 2014, Robocobra Quartet are a loose collective centred around drummer-vocalist Chris Ryan and musicians from Belfast's Sonic Arts Research Centre. Bass and wind instruments are to the fore courtesy of Nathan Rodgers (bass), Paul O'Reilly (clarinet, sax), Thibault Barillion (sax, flute) and Tom Tabori (soprano sax). Simon Templeton adds little splashes of piano.

The group describe their sound as “down-tempo jazz-influenced hardcore” which pretty much hits the mark. There's plenty of fun to be had name-checking echoes past and present. From the current post-hardcore scene you can hear nods to US combo mewithoutyou, then back through Slint to 70s legends like Devo, early Peter Hammill and Captain Beefheart, for example.

The outstanding Our Very Own Version of November Rain could be an out-take from the Pixies Doolittle album, while Ryan's poetic spoken word delivery on several tracks hints at Jim Morrison in the darkening final days of The Doors.

So, think muscular bass, parping horns and sylph-like clarinet runs over which Ryan delivers spoken or gruffly shouted lyrics with a distinctively erudite bent – like the anguished refrain on Correct to “leave more on the cutting room floor”. And though the album is only 25 minutes long, its nine short, intense tracks burst with more ideas than most albums twice that length.

Problem Solver finds Ryan wryly informing us he's “back from fact-finding...I have found no facts”, while Find X opens with the demand to “find x, show your working” before building to a repeated piano-backed mantra: “find yourself seething, find yourself not hearing, find yourself saying the same thing”.

The droll bleakness of the lyrics increases as the album unfolds. On Dirge For Self, Ryan's raw vocal urges us to “watch me second-guess, watch me dig my heels in... what I do best”, while on the closing track Album Of The Year, lines like “four months on, that creeping sense of dread stays numb” are among the cheerier offerings offset brilliantly by melodic lounge bar piano and a sweet and long instrumental horn break.

Thought-provoking and utterly distinctive. If 2017 produces many albums as brilliant as this, we're in for a good year.