Not many drummers go solo, most die in bizarre gardening accidents or are content tapping away until they or the band retire or die. Those that do go solo end up as a drum-bashing gorilla on a chocolate advert and a butt of South Park jokes. (I personally love Phil Collins; ‘Sussudio’ is a great, great song, a personal favourite.) However Steve Wilson, bastion of the Oxford music scene as the skin-thrasher of Phantom Theory and ToLiesel, is giving it a go dance-punk style under the moniker of Robots With Souls and the ‘Droids That Bleed’ single is his latest offering.
Frankly, ‘Droids That Bleed’ is a frightening song. The bass thumps along with the drums and, even though the low strings have been removed, the distorted bass only feels a couple of semitones away from the brown noise. The song’s ambient beginning is blown away by a single thump of the bass which leads into a hypnotic riff to introduce the song proper (have I mentioned that RWS is just Steve, a stripped drum kit, a bass – often played with metal rods and lots of effects pedals? Oh, I haven’t? Well I have now) and it carries on with contrast between stripped-back verses and full-on distortion and crash cymbal-filled choruses. In short, it’s a fun song, albeit with dubious lyrics which sometimes feel contrived (see the use of the phrase ‘this economic climate’).
Steve Wilson is undoubtedly the best singer in Robots With Souls, he doesn’t however possess the sort of vocal ability that would make Robert Plant cry with jealousy. When I first listened to this release, especially ‘Watch Out!’ (the b-side), I dismissed RWS as, er, not very good; let down by the vocals, but the more I listen the more I seem to think that Wilson’s voice, though not perfect, fits the songs.
WARNING! INEVITABLE DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 COMPARISON IMMINENT!
‘Watch Out!’ contains a riff which would fit right into a DFA1979 song; and the distorted vocals over the chorus would sound right too, on the other hand the verses are slightly disappointing and dampen the quality of the fantastic riff. The scratchy bass sildes and semi-glitches remind me exactly of Jesse F. Keeler’s style. While I wouldn’t go as far as calling Robots With Souls a one-man Death From Above (as other music hacks have) there is certainly a similarity.
‘Droids That Bleed’ is a decent effort in a niche music genre. It is clear that Steve Wilson is a very talented drummer and sound manipulator and the sometimes clichéd feeling of the lyrics coupled with the samey song structures can be partially forgiven when you think that this is just one guy. Robots With Souls is a name to watch out (see what I did there?) for in Oxford and beyond. Also my editor tells me that the live show is well worth a visit (Ed. Most definitely. Seeing all the skillful looping and abrasive distortion of the tracks live was quite thrilling) – I’ll see you there!
Released on 1st March 2012 by Tache Gallery Records