It opens with the haunting dull of marching bass notes accompanied by pounding drums. The slow drudge climbs in pace and quickly culminates to a messy explosion of sound. The beginning of Act Normal’s self-titled debut EP never gives you the wrong idea about what it is. After being brazenly punched in the face with the intro track, my senses were immediately overwhelmed with acute, crisp bass riffs that stretched both the length of the fretboard and the universe that this album was beginning to set me in.
I think many artists craft their art to render an experience for anyone enjoying it, but Act Normal fervently succeeds in sending their listener into a dust cloud of chaos, feedback and mesmerizing rhythms that are both catchy and frightening. It’s almost as if you’re trapped in a parallel universe experiencing life through a distorted lens that the band is looking through. Tracks Johnny Ain’t Right and Secret of the Days utilize happy, bouncy tones while exploring the gilded veil that many people cast over their lives. We’re all the center of this twisted reality TV show called life with our own personal audience reacting to every move we make, both good and bad. Despite the upbeat tone, the augmented tones and dastardly-sounding chords keep you engaged but somewhat on edge.
This bizzaro view of life feels perfect through the whole record, with frantic, shredding guitar solos exploding into an assortment of noise before descending back into a tight groove. The syncopation of the bass and drums on Animal Statues keep a heavy rhythm while the guitar is given room to melt into a thousand notes. Even the rhyme and lyrical structure accentuate this seemingly disorganized op-ed on life, even though every single note and word is masterfully composed to tie into the album’s theme.
Zac Dehlbom (Drums, Lead Vocals), Skyler Cunningham (Guitar, Vocals, Hype Man, Vibe Consultant) and Rob MacPherson (Bass, Vocals) all contribute vocally to the stinging shriek of the album. Their overlapped harmonies and screams are what truly drive the music for me. Zac’s commanding voice grips you by backing the guitar chords so perfectly. Rob spends the whole record laying down hypnotic bass lines that really create the ground for the band to run on. The music is so tight and together, reminiscent of bands like The Police. Did I also mention that there’s a sax solo? Yea, there’s a sax solo. I could do my best to analyze the lyrical message of the EP, but this really is a compilation of songs that leave you with a feeling and I encourage you to experience it for yourself. The EP blends several aspects of punk, indie, surf, and psychedelic.
The EP is 100% DIY. It was recorded, mixed, and mastered in Duncan, SC. The band wanted the EP to have a live feeling to it, to have blistering pace and splashy sounds. “When you are locked into a digital grid, all of the emotion that is conveyed through live performance is dampened. Energy and dynamics are sacrificed for absolute precision which, in our opinion, has caused a lot of modern rock to sound sterile and bland. The decision was made early on to track the drums live and to forgo the use of a metronome. All subsequent tracks were overdubbed and edited to these live takes in an attempt to preserve the vibe”, said Zac.
Such a frantically paced album has roots with that essence in mind. The band formed via a Craigslist ad that Zac put out, looking for fellow punks to jam with. After their first session together, it was evident that mischief and mayhem were to come. Many of the riffs for these songs originated from the band’s first jam session. My first experience with Act Normal was at a house show in Raleigh, North Carolina and the second they started playing in that musty, sweaty kitchen I knew I was a fan (shoutout @Greenhouse). Wire, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Thee Oh Sees and Parquet Courts are a few inspirations, but I really think they set them self apart. It’s a fantastically produced and fresh piece of independent creative art.
Whether you want to melt into your couch or be inspired to start writing surf rock jams, I think this is the album to do it to. Then again, don’t take my word for it. Go listen to it. It’s available at:
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