o it turns out drums can bruise. Guitars can draw blood. And a bass can release tiny bass-hands that penetrate the stomach and—with a tiny but powerful grip—twist the poor organ into pretzels. Coptic’s Light’s full-length debut takes a physical toll. It’s not the flurry of hyper-speed math-rock riff-flips dizzying the brain, or the bunker-bombardment blasts from ex-Storm-and-Stress drummer Kevin Shea that deliver the blow, but the tinge of hardcore attitude (luckily without the politics).
Such moments of rage come packaged in three ten-minute plus pieces. Between punk-as-fuck middle fingers in “Mix the Races,” textural interludes loll on velvety licks from frontman Jon Fine, and Jeff Winterberg’s bass leaps from funk-flecked to rabid and foam-flecked in a minute’s time. Ascending guitar shreds introduce the piece and announce its ending, but Shea’s decomposing rhythms and a repeated, ugly string-crunch end it properly. To these ears, “Mix the Races” is the highlight of the album, if only because one isn’t yet exhausted by Coptic Light’s formula.
The aptly-if-unimaginatively titled “Improv” highlights Coptic Light’s use of improvisation to lighten and loosen their taut, precise tracks. The first five minutes of “Improv” does seem the product of a jam session—loose, delicate drum hits, alien guitar washes, and steady, gurgling bass. But when Shea picks up the pace, the listener realizes the intense amount of focus, practice, and compositional acumen saturating Coptic Light. It’s as if the band recorded hours of improvs, pored over the tapes, picked out choice pieces, and spliced them together with neurosurgeon-care.
“Eat it HS” opens with all-out prog bombast that is seriously welcome and guaranteed to draw out your hidden air-guitarist, no matter how deeply he may be buried in your psyche. The track quickly evolves into the usual crammed clatter, for better or worse. Usually it’s for better, but one can easily grow tired of the intensity of this release. If I were a drummer, I’m sure I’d appreciate every second of Shea’s masterful work here, but over forty-five minutes, I became a bit overwhelmed. Same goes for the rubbery basslines. Sure, Coptic Light laces their tracks with ambient moments, but they don’t come nearly enough and they often seem like mere distractions from the task at hand (namely: rocking out).
I must mention that Coptic Light is named after one of Morton Feldman’s most harrowing and minimal works. And that Jeff Winterberg was a member of the legendary hardcore band Antioch Arrow. Resolving these disparate influences seems a hopeless task, but Coptic Light pulls it off with panache. Hints of Feldman linger in rolling effect-pedal soundbeds, and DIY passion pervades the album. Now if only Feldman stood out a bit more…