"What's in a name?” asks Shakespeare’s tragic heroine, then laments “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." When I first read the name of Montreal indie rockers Sex Machine Octopus I did a double take and then I lol’d for a minute. I thought to myself these guys are gonna be a spastic lo-fi punk rock outfit and all their songs would sound like crappier versions of Strokes songs with themes that tackle drinking, doing drugs and difficulties with women. I should note here that had that been the case I probably would still have dug it. However Sex Machine Octopus may be a puerile name the band are not screwing around on their debut EP Fish in the Sea.
Its four core members: singer/guitarist Laurent Boland, guitarist Georges Gagnon, bassist Oliver Cohen-Daigle, and drummer/percussionist Samuel Morissette have been making music together since high school and that may have a lot to do with explaining the genesis of their silly name but as they tire of playing bars and crappy clubs and were sick of hearing their music live through crummy video phone recordings they decided to change things up a bit and make a proper studio recording. This and an elapse of time and maturing helped turn these tunes from their early demo form into the rock solid batch of beat-up blues inflected rock n’ roll tunes.
Fish in the Sea opens with the slow and sure thrash and bang blues brawler “Intro” which gave me visions of Devandra Banhart and Jeff Buckley having a drunkenly melodic bar fight with John Lee Hooker. They slow things down a bit to a ballad-esque rock pace for “Fish in the Sea” on which Boland still comes across poignantly clear though he tones down the raucousness of his vocals and opts instead for a dramatic drone.
Musically complex the song gets a good boost from some harmonica and xylophone parts. The bluesy slow jam feeling continues on the melodic and passionate “Colors” which picks up the pace a bit half-way through and one feels the taut restraint that is being built up and is finally able to be let go in a fantastic mix of Boland’s throaty bellows and screaming electric guitar solo. This all leads up to the final fugue of electrifying rock n’ roll on the closing track, “It’s Sad.”
For a young band Sex Machine Octopus have a maturity beyond their years when it comes to recording. Though the song structures themselves may be a bit formulaic and a little repetitive and sometimes predictable they have at least mastered their instruments and have made a clean and amazing sounding first record by way of Fish in the Sea. They have honed their craft and are definitely ready for a wider audience.
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