Around this time last year, New Zealand-based sludge punk duo Pantihero released their ultra-abrasive debut, which featured mangling bass and drums, battered by face-melting levels of distortion. Pantihero’s first release underscored that a bare-boned musical palette still has a lot of noisy potential, and that’s something fellow NZ punk duo Tooms reaffirm on their recent self-titled debut.
Tooms’ first EP features churning bass and crashing drums, and the Auckland-based two-piece makes a right ol’ ruckus. Tooms don’t ooze filth and misanthropy quite like Pantihero, but their music features its fair share of snark and antipathy, and the band's songs tumble/rumble forth with a punchy and propulsive tempo.
Songs like “The Triffids”, “Types of Dicks”, and my favourite track here, “Dryson's Creek”, see Nich Cunningham's driving bass matched by the energetic percussion of Tooms' drummer Dorian Noval. The music the duo makes is punk at heart (or “winecore”, as they call it), but Tooms syphon influences from a deep pool of underground rock. Echoes of post-punk, no wave, and even noise rock are all here, but Tooms don’t conform to any set genre rules.
The duo’s nonconformity is exemplified by Cunningham and Noval’s outré approach to their shared vocals. Their voices offset and/or weave around each other on tracks like "Black Hands" and "Doom". However, Cunningham and Noval also frequently counterpoint their voices in an entirely contradictory fashion, and their EP duly features some very twisted harmonies.
Those offbeat vocal passages are a refreshing change from the usual throat-slit gargles delivered by the majority of punk bands with dual vocalists that I listen to. (Although, don’t panic, there are still plenty of grunts and growls to be found on Tooms' EP.)What stands out on the duo’s debut is their instinctive ability to write catchy tracks backed by a palpable momentum. There’s no question their songs would sound even better in an ear-splitting live setting – as I’m sure fans at Auckland’s The Other Ways festival will discover this very eve – but Tooms' rough and ready formula isn’t going to please everyone.
If you’re a devotee of fist-pumping riffage and six-string heroics, then the lo-fi grain and concussive starkness of Tooms’ debut might leave you wanting. There’s no denying that the band’s eccentric vocals will confound some. And by their own admission, Tooms recorded their debut EP, “in order to figure out if our material was any good”.
In part, Tooms’ debut is defined by that question. The EP sometimes feels like a work in progress, with the duo exploring different musical avenues, and while most of Tooms’ songs feel concrete and confident, others sound less sure of their direction.
Obviously, it’s no great sin to be figuring out what works or not on your debut. A track like the aforementioned "Dryson's Creek" is certainly a solid gold creative triumph, and even if every unorthodox swerve on their EP isn't a success, Tooms' willingness to let their weirdness reign, while still embedding hooks in their songs, is definitely worthy of praise. (As is the EP’s often black-humoured tone.)
Ultimately, Tooms’ first recordings are very promising. The duo clearly have an intrinsic knack for writing off-kilter and yet engaging songs, and fans of raw, idiosyncratic punk would be well advised to pay Tooms a visit. It’ll be fascinating to see where the duo's inherent nonconformity takes them next.