'Wall Ball' by Leeds' Uprights, is one of those albums where the vocals play second fiddle to all the strange noises the band are able to twist out of a guitar. As such, 'Wall Ball' will probably find a ready home with fellow music-makers, but anyone looking for a catchy tune or sing-along chorus, should steer well clear.
Uprights' vocal style is something of an acquired taste, as frontman Alex Greenwood speaks the entire album from behind a fug of distortion, in a manner not a million miles removed from that of experimental rockers mewithoutYou. If his mad-preacher intonation, occasional yelpy high note and faux American drawl aren't to your taste, then there's no point in even listening to the end of album-opener 'In It Together,' because Greenwood's vocals aren't about to get anymore conventional. But, even if Greenwood's crackly, spoken-word vocals aren't to your particular taste, there's no denying they're a good fit for 'In It Together's sludgey alt-rock and hunkering guitars.
And the ponderous riffing continues with 'Sun Bathing' and 'The Me.' The introduction of a throbbing bass to both these songs creates the impression they're building towards a climatic high. Sadly, that high point never arrives, as Uprights instead bring in various experimental riffs which drone, whine, scream and generally make all manner of bestial noises.
With the underlying pulse of the bass being a somewhat changeless beat, and Greenwood's vocals half-lost in a bad-microphone haze, Uprights' tendency to go off on riff-heavy tangents does add some much-needed variety to proceedings - but, sadly, it's not nearly enough.
Both 'Sun Bathing' and 'The Me' are driving, taunt songs but, despite all the musical talent and artistic thinking on display, neither really works itself to the highs that are clearly within Uprights' reach. Consequently, you may just feel your attention wandering.
'Legs O'Houlian' and 'Wasting Time' both have an 'impromptu jam' vibe that's likely to gain them a musician fan base, although those looking for something a little more conventionally 'song-like' are again going to be disappointed. Both have an abundance of raw, randomly wailing riffs and a tight, changeless and plodding bass beat, which is a combination Uprights seem to hold particularly dear to their hearts. However, 'Wasting Time' boasts one neat hook, in the form of riffs that climb laboriously higher, before juddering back down. Out of these two sprawling, musically complex songs, 'Wasting Time' is the one that stands the best chance of getting fixed in your head.
With so much of 'Wall Ball' being played out at the same tempo, 'Letter From My Mum' and 'Whiskey And The Moon' really shake up the slightly tried Uprights sound. With 'Letter From My Mum' Uprights treat us to a funky combination of their trademark slacker guitars and chugging bass. Likewise, the rumbling, drum-led rock 'n roll of 'Whiskey And The Moon' feels like the most hell-raising song ever, within the context of the album. Greenwood even puts a snarl into his distorted vocals, making this a shot of adrenaline that'll really wake the flagging listener up.
'Space And Time' has that overall coherence that much of this album lacks, as a tight bass groove shimmies away in the background throughout the whole of the track. The neat, sinuous bass rhythms ensure that even 'Space And Time's extended instrumental ending is infectious, instead of boring. Also crucial to 'Space And Time's success, is a more forceful vocal thrust, as drummer Craig Clerk joins Greenwood on vocal duties. These dual vocals may not be any less fuzzy, but at least they're less inclined to fade into the background. With 'Space And Time,' Uprights prove you can get away with being musically repetitive, if what you're repeating is good.
After injecting some oomph into their vocals on 'Space And Time,' Uprights promptly return to their old ways, with the multi-layered, babbling-out-of-time dual vocals of 'Daydreaming.' It's that brand of oddness that repels the listener, rather than draws them into a strange, seductive new world. This is a shame as, beyond those mind-boggling vocals, 'Daydreaming' is twisted, experimental metal with shed loads of riffs that moan and shudder like some poor, tormented beast. In terms of music, it's arty, anguished metal. In terms of vocals, it's sadly just a bit of a mess.
It's no surprise that 'Wall Ball' features a hidden track, although what's surprising is that it's even odder than the nine songs included in the track listing. It's an hypnotic blend of crunchy, industrial-electro beats, clucking percussion and droned, possessed-sounding vocals that'll get fixed in your head, simply because it's the same short passage of music repeated over and over. It brings 'Wall Ball' to a fittingly bizarre, and darkly mesmerising finish.
'Wall Ball' is a ponderous, two tonne weight of an album that grinds painfully along, with frequent forays into strange, riff-heavy soundscapes. It'll appeal to those who get excited by an usual riff, or an unconventional song structure. 'Letter From My Mum,' 'Space And Time' and 'Whiskey And The Moon' are 'Wall Ball's most accessible moments, and do have something to offer for those who like an overall tune to their music. The rest of this album - although displaying plenty of musical talent and outside-of-the-box thinking - is one who for those who like to scrutinise and analyse what they're listening to. An acquired taste.