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Consonant - Love and Affliction

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Artist: Consonant

Album: Love and Affliction

Label: Fenway

Review date: Sep. 11, 2003

A Different Mission

After Mission of Burma split in 1983, bassist/vocalist Clint Conley retired from the music world, basically hanging his guitar in a closet and settled into a life of career, family and stability. Though he helped Burma acolytes Yo La Tengo by manning the production and bassist’s chair on their debut, Ride the Tiger, it seemed that Conley was more than willing to bow out gracefully from the music scene.

Spurred by Burma’s renewed activity and his own recent return to songwriting, Conley got together with Boston-area friends Chris Brokaw (Come, The New Year), Matt Kadane (Bedhead, The New Year) and Winston Braman (Fuzzy) under the guise of Consonant and set about recording their self titled debut. Aided Bob Weston’s engineering skills and drawing fodder from the poems and prose of Holly Anderson (who helped Conley write the Burma classic "Mica"), it seemed Conley had gathered together the right team. Now they just needed to become an actual band.

Allowing year to lapse between their debut and Love and Affliction, Consonant has grown a bit more comfortable as a group. Love and Affliction finds Conley bent on simplicity, having jettisoned the manic, high art stylings that fueled Burma and parts of Consonant’s self-titled debut. The angular spasms and unhinged kinetic energy have been curved for the sake of songwriting. Conley for the most part was always the McCartney of Burma, the author of the group’s moments of asthmatic anti-pop and instead of following his former inclination to bury his melodies under mounds of tape loops, upside-down drum beats and distorted guitar, Love and Affliction flips the script a bit, using a more strategic precision to get across the same point.

Consonant takes a relatively conservative approach on Love and Affliction, struggling to stay within the framework of straight-forward songwriting, despite the leader’s natural instincts. With Conley’s strident, tenor voice at the helm, Consonant spends a great deal of the album fighting the bells and whistles of free-jazz debauchery and frantic time signature changes, hallmarks of Conley’s earlier styles, and really concentrating on writing catchy, melodic rock songs.

The influences of Brokaw and Kadane seemed to have helped in Conley’s quest. Brokaw’s command of subtle guitar dynamics adds stability to album’s rockier moments (most notably the Come inspired riff on "Blue Story"), while Kadane has shown his bandmates that quieter volumes can be just as menacing as onslaughts of noise.

To borrow a phrase from the Buzzcocks, Love and Affliction is brewing with a different kind of tension then their debut or any of the members’ other projects. For all intents, Consonant has made a conventional rock album that sounds at first rather, well, conventional, when in fact it just uses punk and indie rock in a more subversive context. By playing off the not-so-obvious influences (i.e. the Kinks, country singer Roger Miller) they've shown a much broader palette of songwriting and production then the usual indie rock drab and, true to Conley’s punk past, have in effect thrown away the rulebook. On Love and Affliction, it seems Conley and Consonant have taken a step towards accessibility, into a state of equilibrium where the Stooges and Stockhausen, the low- and the high-brow, jam in harmony.

By Paul Burress

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