non-fiction rock from Aotearoa New Zealand

Transit Review: [NZ]

Despite the community-oriented name, The Mr Sterile Assembly is one of the most singular and unusual acts in New Zealand. Primarily a two-piece, the Assembly draft in an array of other musicians where and when required, all in service of a quirky and distinctive approach to music. Let’s just say that you haven’t heard anything quite like these guys.

Transit is the band’s fifth album, testament to their strength of purpose. On the surface, the pair’s predilection for wacky costumes and awkward song structures would seem to be the kind of thing destined for a short lifespan. If that is the case, nobody told drummer/vocalist Kieran Monaghan nor bassist/vocalist Chrissie Butler and to think so would be to underestimate the commitment they bring to their music.

The album opens with the menacing, urgent skitter of “Hibakusha”, written about a real-life survivor of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This groove-driven approach continues throughout Transit, but with other instrumentation dropping in to provide the melody, such as brass on the ska-inflected “I, Robert”. The full range of sounds on board includes punk, jazz, rap and pretty much everything in between. What is remarkable is that it is always coherent and holds together, no matter what quirks get thrown into the mix. The glue seems to be the intricate, highly-effective stickwork of Monaghan, reining in even the most abstract of songs.

Where other bands are content with playing their local town and maybe the odd New Zealand tour once or twice in their career, The Mr Sterile Assembly has played Slovakia, Poland, Malaysia, Indonesia…not exactly the usual OE destinations. But doing things away from the norm seems to be the prescription here, as well. A song starts in one direction and may completely change style halfway through, never to return.

The quirkiness occasionally drifts into self-indulgent stylings such as on “Whyt” or “Bug My Ride”, which cross the line between unorthodox and annoying. I can’t imagine anyone wanting many listens of such songs, but this is always the risk with an act willing to take chances as The Mr. Sterile Assembly are.

A step up on their previous releases, Transit shows the Assembly becoming a cohesive, challenging outfit. Not to mention the super-slick packaging for the CD, which is refreshing and welcome in these days of digital downloads (although a tracklist would have been nice!). An uneven album, but littered with moments of brilliance.

Review: Matt

Original review at THIS LINK

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