The Gnashing of the Pestilent Maw is a quintessential college album. No, not the college radio rock of yesteryear that might come to mind, but there is a similar, youthful energy and multi-directional experimentation present. Mix that in with all of the equipment access and attention that comes from being recorded by a friend working on an audio project and you've got yourself an exciting little album.
The five-track EP is, at it's heart, an indie guitar rock album that sways both towards bright, almost psychedelic riffs and slowed down, blues inspired funk. Sam Wintermantel, the man behind the project, also maintains a laid back vocal delivery that manages to still come off as upbeat. All of the songs, for what it's worth, also seem to feel longer than they are, due to the inclusion of many bridges, variations on verses, call backs and a couple of delightfully drone-y outros.
While the album starts with the smooth ‘70s catchiness of “Wax and Wane,” the EP really hits its stride on the next track “Fishbone.” Opening with a phased-in guitar riff—in a style that could have been pulled off Radiohead's The Bends—Wintermantel's vocals nail down that subdued-yet-energetic sense, singing like a stoned out Andrew Bird or Ben Folds phoning it in. This is in no way a bad thing, as the vocal tracks fit perfectly and are propped upon ringing, descending chord progressions and lush harmonies that really add to the overall effect.
The third and fourth tracks provide great mid-album filler—again, nothing wrong with that and again demonstrating a couple more directions that Wintermantel was inclined to explore. “Cyclone” opens with the slow burn minimalism of indietronica (think Glass Animals), but with a malaise laden vocal delivery a la Beirut. “Black Hole” sounds a ton like Sup Pop indie star Chad Vangaalen, a sound you don't hear nearly enough.
“Ugly Swamp Fucker” is the standout track on the album, with some great vocal and guitar work. Wintermantel again pulls off wonderful harmonies—this time with more of a folk twinge—as well as a sort of back and forth with some jangly guitar riffs that are reminiscent of Pavement. The song switches up between big post-rock chords to lush harmonies and simple guitar soloing with drums dancing around the edge and seldom crashing all the way in.
Wintermantel recorded the EP with his friend Joe LaCourt at their college in upstate New York. The production vales are high, but the album isn't overproduced—the various effects sound more like a well captured amp than the product of post-recording mastering, which really bodes well for the stripped down and layered back up nature of the music.
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