TRAINER – Athletic Statics (2020)REVIEW

What does an album cover say about an unconventional independent rock band in 2020? A pile of nails, just sittin’ there, full of structural potential. Buttoned up, simple, utilitarian, rudimentary… Eh, I’d rather see it as an indication of which side of the brain drives the core artistic statement behind the music; If this is acceptable as representation then, in this case we’re likely veering center-left, not quite brutalist and perhaps slightly late 80’s in spirit. Either way, these are not necessarily character traits I’d glean from image into mind when digging through the milling, plinking, clangorous churn of Saarbrücken, Germany noise rock quartet Trainer, who’ve got strokes of motorized minimalism in their blood for sure, but perhaps only for the sake of clarity when pushing out oft complex, intuitive, and freely slung semi-improvised action. When the chassis lifts and the mathematical syncopation of the spin reveals the girders supporting its earful of ‘Athletic Statics’ it feels -old-, as if it were a reconstruction of long-broken and distended relics of enlightened-era noise rock and Hell, maybe even a hint of no wave origin.

Too present to be described as surrealistic and too heavy to lump in with pure post-punk, much of ‘Athletic Static’ approaches the more angular slinking of ‘Repeater’-era Fugazi, noise rock but with a touch of deadpan post-hardcore heaviness pulling further away from the most expected forms with each slap of the guitar. A counting addiction makes for precision, where Trainer‘s dirge n donkey kickin’ movements become vibrant, artful, and plastered together with sublime tone and abrasive, deceptively simple guitar noise. For a debut it feels remarkably well conceived where a unique style of noise rock meets early Gang of Four (“Three Times Slower”) whips it towards the early 90’s and persists in an exploration of irregular-yet-enchanting rhythmic growth. Although ‘Athletic Statics’ is never plainly a ‘throwback’ or imitative to an intense degree folks attuned to the rhythms of Slint (both albums), (early) Minutemen and the other bands previously mentioned will ‘get’ what they’re doing here in the context of modern noise rock guitar that edges into art rock, occasional dipping into purely experimental stuff without going full punk or slop along the way.

On the first cursory spin I’d not been entirely impressed by the tunnel vision sound of ‘Athletic Statics’, I tend to need deeper separation of mood within songs and pieces rather than a banged-out stream of consciousness experience when it comes to this type of music. I stuck around for the deeper layers initially because the guitar work held some interest “El Tren Oscuro” in particular felt like it had both rhythms and meaning of note. Plus hey, there wasn’t any focus on modern hardcore excess, as much as I like when noise rock has a bit of math metal thrown in for the sake of new-school skronk the stripped and focused aim of Trainer feels golden, classic but never dumbed down. — Strong enough in conviction to create a hurricane-stormed mind yet a reluctant wizard when it comes time to control it. Or, in other words, they kinda fuck around on the edges of the full listen where the guitarist becomes unleashed, pushing out riffs in unexpected ways; The “Runnin’ Down a Dream”-esque bounding grooves of “Once in a Lifetime” being a prime example.

They push it, for better or worse, on several songs. The most discomfort I’d felt came with “Simple Plan” and less due to the song itself, which is just fine, but for it’s use of crackling fire, aluminum foil? I’m not sure what it is but that sort of plastic crunching noise used throughout the piece that drove me up the wall with how irritating it’d been. The rest of the album avoids this sort of brain-frazzling moment, providing a strong flex of every muscle available to Trainer. The first standout has to be “Object NOI” and its garage rock rushing riff whipping out more like Zig-Zags than Wire to start. Is it, about a very easy robot? A suggestible drone? The refrain towards the end of the song is nice nudge forward just as the piece begins to drone on. It feels equal parts “metal” as much as it feels like a hint at some love for Killing Joke. Is there too much of their nail-slinging cold fish-slapped milling in view of a ~36 minute record? No, but I’d have been happier with a stripped down with 30 minutes of this stuff. Those extra six minutes I’d likely cut out of the full listen would only serve to skip over the main interest of the album, where interesting use of experimental noise to create atmosphere in their climate controlled noise rock factory work.

“Code name Juanita” is the Big Boys moment I always hope to find on a noise rock or similarly shakin’ punk albums. Not so much for the funk/punk but for the sake of freshly cyclical, danceable drumming and call-and-response guitar riffing that hits like extra percussion thanks to the guitar tone, which is just snarling at this point on the album. The end of the album is a peak build up towards where Trainer blaze hot and angrily through the anthemic closer “We Were Here” as if there were yet another half hour in the efforts. Will any of these standout moments appeal to folks with no interest in noise rock guitar? I think ‘Athletic Statics’ has its audience in noise rock, post-hardcore, and experimental rock spheres but there some deeper hooks in there that might catch freak rock dabblers and generalists off guard. It isn’t a perfect album by any means, though. For starters, where is the bass guitar? It’d never really bothered me that there wasn’t a single bassline on the record (that I could hear) until I’d been about ten full listens into it so, take that observation for what it might imply. A moderately high recommendation, and only for the established noise rock fan.

Moderately high recommendation.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Athletic Statics
LABEL(S):Fidel Bastro [Vinyl]
RELEASE DATE:June 26, 2020
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [Digital, CD, Vinyl]
GENRES:Noise Rock,
No Wave,
Experimental Rock

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