No Mandate. The band name seems almost paradoxical, for their mandate appears to be to have, you guessed it, no mandate. The title for the Australian trio’s debut full-length release seems to confirm this – No Mandate have recalibrated. The band haven’t thrown away the blueprint, per se, but they have rebuilt themselves (they have the technology). Recalibrate is stronger, more powerful, and simply more enjoyable than No Mandate’s previous EPs. I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting to hear such (bionic) growth, and love the greater vision, depth and dynamics Recalibrate brings. The band is made up from members of (chamber prog band) Hinterlandt, (ambient/post-rock band) Meniscus, and (math rockers) SEIMS, but sound nothing like any of these. The closest, I guess, would be SEIMS, as math rock is one element of No Mandate that makes its presence felt strongly. Math rock often dovetails nicely with other genres, be that jazz, post-rock or punk, but No Mandate must be one of very few math rock bands to play dub.
In a way, it makes a lot of sense. Post-punk largely influenced the development of math rock, and dub largely influenced the development of post-punk. It’s not uncommon to hear dub in post-punk, which almost begs the question of why it’s so much rarer to hear it in math rock. King Tubby, who is generally acknowledged to be the creator of dub music, would surely be a fan of math rock. He understood and performed music in a very precise, scientific and mathematical manner. No Mandate are effectively cross-pollinating the influences of King Tubby, and those other great innovators, King Crimson; having a blast doing so, and creating something that is simply a joy to listen to. One of the most impressive aspects of Recalibrate is that no matter how complex the music gets (and being math rock, it does of course get complex), it never feels or sounds complex. While calling it easy listening may perhaps be going to far, it’s inviting and welcoming.
That said, the album thunders into being with a crashing and crushing intro to Thursday that sounds more like a climactic passage. It very soon resolves (just five seconds later) into some groovy and funky – and undeniably mathy – dub. There’s some absolutely neat syncopation, and it’s even more effective because of the way the band come together, and then move apart again – making those moments where they are as one sound fantastic. In the six minutes or so of Thursday, an incredible amount of musical ground is covered, with several unexpected twists. It’s such an impressive opening gambit that I almost don’t need anything more, I could simply listen to Thursday on repeat. But what is easily one of my favourite tracks on Recalibrate is followed probably my least favourite.
No Mandate is largely an instrumental band, and I wish they’d stick to that, as the vocals when they come (such as on the title track) just do nothing for me. They have a real post-punk swagger, that definitely fits in nicely with the music, and I won’t say I don’t like them, but they don’t feel like they add anything to the music, and if anything detract from it, for me at least. If Recalibrate were instrumental, I think it would be another favourite track. But, even if it’s my least favourite, I still love it – which goes to show the overall quality of the album, as there really is not a weak track. Some of the passages in Recalibrate are simply amazing. Mind-blowing, even. There is so much passion and energy in this number, bumping up the punk quotient in this math-dub-punk melange. This is ramped up even more for the brief, frantic and raucous blast of Nothing to Declare. With a wry sense of humour, this sub-minute track has been released as a single.
747 Dub is far more languid and laid-back, but too edgy to be relaxing. The instruments curl around each other, snarling, spiralling in, and spiralling out. It reminds me a little of the dub take on Tool-like post-metal from English band Trio, though it doesn’t really sound like either Tool or Trio. Perhaps more like Helmet? (Or, at least, Helmet if they played dub.) But despite its sparse minimalism, it provides a great deal of heavy menace and tension. The dub keeps a groove going, but it’s one that could accompany a horror film. 747 Dub is delightfully discordant and off-kilter, but surprises with an unpredictably melodic ending. And just to add to the unpredictability, the following track is another favourite – which would probably be higher in my affections if it did not have vocals. The vocals for Hamster Wheel (which, unlike 747 Dub is 7:47 in length) are, I guess, appropriate, as the song is almost a ballad – and, to be fair, they do add to the song more than the vocals for Recalibrate. Don’t be so hard on vocals. Don’t be so hard on vocals. Don’t be so hard on vocals. Don’t be. Don’t be…
I came to No Mandate via SEIMS, so it comes as no great surprise that I’m a fan of Other Brother, as it has quite a SEIMS feel to it. This is possibly the closest No Mandate come to sounding like one of its members other bands, while still sounding like no one else but themselves. Energetic. Melodic. Jagged. Groovy. Unpredictable. The sound washes over the listener in great waves. And then, as suddenly as it began, the album is over with the short punky math of Keep the Change. I love how quirky this album is, and (rare for a math rock band) how raw and “real” the playing and production is. I love how No Mandate have so seamlessly woven together the threads of punk, dub and math, to create something so distinctive and fun. Despite passages of pure chaos and carnage, there are spaces in the music for simplicity. There are riffs. There are hooks. There are vibes. There are moments of pure joy. And joy is what I’m left with after listening to Recalibrate. This is feel good music, and a perfect proggy pick-me-up. No matter how angular or spasmodic the music gets, no matter how heavy or gritty, it’s a pleasure to listen to.
01. Thursday (6:39)
02. Recalibrate (4:04)
03. Nothing to Declare (0:52)
04. 747 Dub (6:23)
05. Hamster Wheel (7:47)
06. Other Brother (8:11)
07. Keep the Change (0:53)
Total Time – 34:49
Jochen Gutsch – Guitar, Vocals
Alex O’Toole – Drums
Simeon Bartholomew – Bass
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Australia
Date of Release: 15th April 2021