Album Review: Rolo Tomassi – Grievances

It wouldn’t be entirely correct to call ‘Grievances’ the record on which Rolo Tomassi have finally matured. The Sheffield quintet have been ambitious from the beginning; it’s been about progress since the second their brand of ‘Hysterics’ was loosed upon the world back in 2008. Since last we heard from them on 2012’s ‘Astraea’, they’ve been relatively quiet, but a lot has changed behind the scenes. For one thing, a key element of their sound has been altered – drummer Edward Dutton said his goodbyes after touring ‘Astraea’, replaced by ex-Goodtime Boys sticksman Tom Pitts, who made his recording debut on a split 7” with Australia’s Stockades last year. RT’s contribution, ‘Adrasteia’, was considerably darker than their previous record, but also more focused, their ever-changing song structures distilled into something more blunt and powerful that remained far from straightforward. It provided a signpost for where they were headed next, but was merely a warm-up for ‘Grievances’. For their fourth album, the band have taken cues from their past work and recontextualised them into something that bears all the hallmarks of the Rolo Tomassi sound, but is also something daring and new.

‘Grievances’ is an album in the truest sense of the word: a 40-minute suite that benefits from being listened to in its entirety. Sure, ‘Stage Knives’ and ‘Opalescent’ make sense as singles, but they tell only half the story in isolation – the latter is linked into the darkly atmospheric, piano-led prelude of ‘Phantoms’, on which the antiphonal vocals of siblings Eva and James Spence provide the first full glimpse into a new side of the band: one far more beautiful and (appropriately enough) noirish than what they’ve previously had to offer. Eva is able to rely on clean vocals more often, her voice on a knife-edge between choir-girl clarity and anguished screams. The brutality of old is no longer the band’s focus, though they can still deliver that in spades; if you’re looking for a kick in the teeth, opener ‘Estranged’ is all you need to be assured that the five-piece have lost none of their edge. ‘Raumdeuter’ provides power of a different kind, its opening Envy-esque squalls leading into a synths-and-vocals breakdown that gradually builds to a sweetly melodic payoff.

That track features three clear ideas that are allowed to develop fully over five minutes, and thus flourish – even half a decade ago, they would have tried to stuff twice as much into a song half its length. In a way, ‘Raumdeuter’ acts as a microcosm of ‘Grievances’ as a whole, the first real indication that their musical prowess, ambition and energy have finally caught up to each other. ‘The Embers’ hearkens back to the Rolo Tomassi of old, Nathan Fairweather’s sludgy bassline underpinning the track as it swoops and soars through constant states of flux, compressed into just over three minutes. Tracks like the disarming pair of ‘Crystal Cascades’ and ‘Chandelier Shiver’, meanwhile, are like nothing else in the band’s catalogue, James Spence taking the lead on the former, backed by piano, strings and smouldering post-rock guitars. The latter, meanwhile, sees them live up to their L.A. Confidential-referencing moniker and deliver an atmospheric instrumental that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in that very film, the main melody of which is then referenced in the opening bars of penultimate track ‘Funereal’. Such interlinked motifs and themes are easy to miss on initial listens, and the mix is dense enough that you’ll have to stay on your toes in order to pick out the many surprising elements that have gone into this album.

‘All That Has Gone Before’ closes the record and is a testament to just how far the band have come in their decade-long existence, opening with stately piano arpeggios and bringing the curtain down on the album with a crushingly heavy coda; dual vocals, crashing guitars, ferocious drumming from Pitts and, finally, peaceful organ that doesn’t so much as hint at the maelstrom of chaos it has been spat out of. “I am no one / There is no glory in the end” Eva sings as the closing chapter of the ‘Grievances’ odyssey is reached. She shouldn’t be so sure: the latest, and thus far greatest, statement from Rolo Tomassi is glorious through and through. They have come into their own, and their fourth LP is surely due to be heralded as a masterpiece.


‘Grievances’ by Rolo Tomassi is out now on Holy Roar.

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Words by Gareth O’Malley (@riversidemethod)


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