Most of the music we listen to is comprised of variations on familiar themes. It’s much rarer to encounter music that’s so utterly different that it’s genuinely innovative. But that’s exactly the kind of novel and unconventional music that New Zealand three-piece The All Seeing Hand create.
The Wellington-based trio make incredibly imaginative and often indescribable music, and it’s taken me two months to even work up the courage to write about their latest stunning album, Sand to Glass. That’s mainly because I’ve sat around for weeks on end wondering if I have the requisite skills to illustrate the album’s uniqueness or its inventiveness. And I’ll happily admit, right from the outset, that my unpacking of Sand to Glass is probably only going to skim the surface.
Where to start, though? Well, how about the fact that no one else is making music anything like The All Seeing Hand. I guess, at a stretch, you could say they share a similarly adventurous spirit to Battles, the New York experimental trio. (That’s more of a kindred philosophic approach though, rather than any solid sonic similarities per se.) Both bands make music that’s outré and cerebral but still entirely accessible because it’s so palpable and involving. And, like Battles, The All Seeing Hand sound as if they’re switched on to a higher frequency than most.
It’s astonishing how big a noise The All Seeing Hand can make. They take their core musical palette of turntables, throat, and a drum kit, and with a helping of offbeat electronics they set out to explore the worlds of psych, funk, metal, hip hop, space rock, math rock, noise, punk, post-punk, industrial, drone, and everything else. When you listen to Sand to Glass you’ll hear that complex mix of different genres and atmospheres constantly evolving, and the seamless way the songs transmogrify is a testament to the creative chemistry within the band.
The All Seeing Hand’s turntablist, Alphabethead, has a background in hip hop, but he’s also delved into more expansive musical territory over the years. Alphabethead’s a master of multilayered sound manipulation, and on Sand to Glass he delivers neck-breaking beats and inventive pop hooks while mixing in mountains of genre-spanning sounds.
The band’s vocalist, Johnny Marks, is a high-energy and charismatic front-person who’s trained in the traditional art of Mongolian throat-singing. The tone, texture, and timbre of his unorthodox voice is a key ingredient/instrument in Sand to Glass’ utter uniqueness. (As it is on The All Seeing Hand’s previous idiosyncratic releases.)
Completing the trio is drummer B Michael Knight, whose musical CV is stacked with punk rock (see Rogernomix and Unsanitary Napkin). Knight’s drumming duly adds heavyweight vigour and velocity to The All Seeing Hand’s sound. But it’s not all concussive chaos on Sand to Glass. Knight’s adept at constructing jazzier, funkier, and far more avant-garde fills too.
All of The All Seeing Hand’s music is uncompromising and transformative. And whatever’s needed to effect change is on the artistic menu. Sand to Glass’ tracks routinely metamorphose from one state to another while traversing far-out soundscapes, and The All Seeing Hand show zero hesitation in wandering well off the beaten track. See the album’s title track, which is a brooding yet altogether acid-fried mindbender.
Psych ’n’ sci-fi thrills fuel the electro-percussive jaunt “Gravity”. A harsher and heavier industrial template underscores “Cro-Magnon Corp”, and “Lizard Brain” crashes and gnashes too. Things get more esoteric on slow-burning tracks like “Temple of Bone” and “Swarms”. But, for all their meticulous arrangements, none of the tracks on Sand to Glass feel restricted by their complicated inner workings.
There’s a heap of lively punked-up funk in “Dog Eat Dog”. And there’s plenty of get-up-and-go in the oddball gyrations of “Silicon & Synapse” too. Whatever each song’s individual orientation –– be it electro-folk on “Rag & Bone” or lysergic/cosmic contortions on “Jupiter’s Moons” –– all the audio experimentalism in Sand to Glass is balanced out by abundant hypnotic hooks.
It’s no secret that unconventional music is often difficult to engage with, and Sand to Glass is definitely an unorthodox album stacked with eccentric music. However, The All Seeing Hand ensure Sand to Glass sounds alive and all-embracing from its very first second to its very last. It’s a ceaselessly evolving and involving album filled with brain-twisting surprises, and all that action means Sand to Glass remains captivating throughout. Best of all, even at its darkest Sand to Glass is utterly ecstatic, delivering transformative music for troubling times.