One-man bands are nothing new to the heavy music scene. Black metal in particular seems to have a monopoly on the concept of one person locked in their house, recording every instrument and doing all the vocals. Other people’s minds might jump to a strange looking guy with a bass drum strapped to his back, tambourines on the ankles, accordion and trumpet blaring atonally. Reptoid, on the other hand, takes a “one-man” approach on Worship False Gods that’s closer to the latter in structure (and maybe lyrical concept), but with the finesse and precision of the former.
Oakland, CA’s Reptoid is almost assuredly unlike any band you have ever seen, even as far as noise bands go. Jordan Sobolew, the aforementioned one man, takes things to a brand-new level with his intricate and physically demanding setup. Not only does he sing and play all the instruments, he does it all at the same time, in real time. Oh, and did I mention most of those instruments are homemade? Because they are. Honestly, it’s a thing that needs to be seen to truly be believed. Primarily playing drums with a microphone literally strapped to his face, the bulk of the sound comes from manipulation of homemade effects pedals that feed back, glitch, sample and warp to provide the melodic element to the compositions, if you can call it that. Worship False Gods was created and recorded without the aid of any backtracks or computers of any kind; it’s an entirely human process, and of course everything was recorded live in the studio, by Sobolew (who also mixed the album, as if he didn’t have enough to work with). For something that sounds alien and mechanical, it’s a very organic process that requires equal amounts of physical and mental dexterity to manage. And speaking of aliens, how could the lyrics not be about aliens looking down on humanity and judging the false gods of greed, wealth and status that we worship? It’s a wild ride from start to finish, and it’s made all the wilder by knowing just how much ingenuity went in to making it.
Noise rock traditionally gets a rap as being solely about causing as much ear pain as possible with the strangest, loudest and harshest sonic landscape as possible. I don’t want that to sound condescending, because I really enjoy bands like Health and Lightning Bolt that are all about the wacky and the excessive. Reptoid, however, is a much different beast, even if it doesn’t seem that way on paper. Yes, it’s loud. Yes, it’s out there. There is, however, a subtlety to the songs that makes them memorable for more than just the aesthetics. There are real hooks here, both in terms of sound and vocal delivery, situated in between the punches of noise and frenzy. “This is Progress” features a constant whine of feedback that is manipulated and twisted under Sobolew’s imploring lyrics. On opener “Planned Obsolescence,” Sobolew proselytizes about the obsolescence of the “human machine” in a way that makes him seem like a larger than life figure preaching about the end times. For someone who sings with a microphone shoved in his mouth, his delivery is clear, strong and more articulate than his contemporaries. It’s not indecipherable and it adds another eerie layer to False Gods. It’s a wonder that he can manage to do that while working his pedals and playing drums, especially the way he plays. “Void Filler” runs the gamut of crazy spastic noise to punk aggression to industrial boom and even a little jazz thrown in there for good measure. It’s noisy and chaotic at times, but there’s a sense of fine craftsmanship displayed here that really makes False Gods a memorable listen.
Just when I thought that I had seen everything, along came Reptoid to show me that if there’s a will and a vision, then anyone can find a way. Honestly, watching Sobolew do everything that he does at the same time makes me realize that I can’t even do one individual piece as well as him. It’s a little infuriating, but mostly awe-inspiring. Seriously, look up a video of him performing. It’s a mind-blowing demonstration of technique, skill and focus. And then go pick up Worship False Gods.