Consisting of drummer/vocalist Chris Ryan, bassist Nathan Rodgers, and saxophonists Tom Tabori (soprano) and Paul O’Reilly (tenor), Robocobra Quartet is a self-described ‘baroque-punk’ band from Belfast. With the band claiming influences as disparate as comedian Stewart Lee, DIY-punk heroes Fugazi, legendary hip hop producer J Dilla, and minimalist contemporary classical composer Steve Reich, baroque-punk may well be as apt a description for what they do as anything else.
With their jazz and hip hop inspired grooves and cryptic, literate lyrics – ‘BOMBER’ being four songs “based on a fictional character involved in a failed assassination attempt” – one may be forgiven for imagining Robocobra Quartet as what would happen if Mark E. Smith of the Fall recorded an album with post-bop prodigies BadBadNotGood.
Comparisons and inspirations aside, what we find on ‘BOMBER’ is a compact, concise, consistent collection of jams, packed with sonic treats for the audiophiles and enough word salad to fill a bookworm for weeks.
Ryan serves as the anchor that keeps this ship afloat amid a storm of free improv horns with precise, powerful and sophisticated drumming, tastefully doused in natural reverb. He is also the EP’s unpredictable focal point, barking thought-provoking fragments at every turn. Rodgers’ bass serves as the melodic foil as the saxes spar it out, bobbing and weaving around each other, harmonizing as the lyrics intensify.
Highlights come in form of particular moments within tracks. On opening track ’98 – ’01, we are introduced to our story with sparse prayer-bell harmonics courtesy of Rodgers before the horns kick in. On Wicker Bar we are treated to ethereal backing vocals and spiralling sax licks set to an A Tribe Called Quest-esque jazz-hop beat.
Key track ’80 – ’88 ebbs and flows, allowing room for Ryan’s voice to intensify each time the track’s mantra is repeated (“those door slams at night / can happen as often as they like / but they’ll never sound alright”), before a total jazz break in the middle that sounds as if all musicians are playing lead at once. It also offers his most prevalent line, “for long I’ve set furlongs / of distance between / what I say and what I mean”.
Flickering Blinds is as menacing as any post-hardcore track you’ve heard from anybody on Dischord records, with its looping bassline, machine-like beat and repeated sax melody.
Rather unexpectedly, Robocobra Quartet have set themselves up quite well here. Though undoubtedly a niche project, they have produced an intriguing piece of work on ‘BOMBER’ and are surely ones to watch.
‘BOMBER’ is released on 21 April, and can be pre-ordered from Robocobra Quartet’s bandcamp page now.