You ever think about what your pets think of your music taste? Sure, animals may react when you put on Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” or Sufjan, but those reactions are most likely purely physical or conditioned by whatever happens when you listen to that music. It’s probable that animals have no understanding of music as a source of gratification, no notion that music is different from any other form of sound. Regardless of style, structure or medium, Frou-Frou your domesticated gila monster hears every song you play as an inert, meaningless flow of noise, neither good nor bad.
And that’s what it’s like listening to Mongrel, the third LP from New Jersey’s tech-metal sextet the Number 12 Looks Like You. The band doesn’t so much write songs as compile fragmentary riffs and guitar runs into extreme metal scrapbooks. A note-perfect Dillinger Escape Plan freak-out here, some tightly wound Mars Volta melodic moves there, and a hint of Blood Brothers sass in between. Each song’s elements are completely modular: You could swap the gratuitous flamenco lick from “Paper Weight Pigs” with the Psyopus-style, stutter-grind spasms of “The Try (Thank You),” and the two songs would still sound the same.
The Number 12 Looks Like You intended Mongrel as an emotionally driven concept album, essaying the personal demons of the titular character as he flip-flops between self-control and psychosis. Knowing that, the schizoid song arrangements make a little more sense, and the shape-shifting screaming/growling/singing of Number 12’s dual vocalists are a good fit, too. But for an album that’s supposed to tap into someone’s inner emotional life, Mongrel sounds overly cerebral and almost passionless. Somewhere in the midst of the stop-on-a-dime grindcore/post-punk/emo about-faces, the Number 12 Looks Like You loses whatever hint of personality it had to begin with. The musicianship is impeccable and there are tons of great riffs scattered throughout, but all the super-cool parts collide into one another without direction, and Mongrel‘s constant helter-skelter motion paradoxically causes its songs to recede into the background as dull, undifferentiated sonic wallpaper, unable to make an impact.
Don’t believe me? Try playing Mongrel for your dog. Maybe he’ll perk up his ears for a minute, but he’s gonna go back to licking his crotch by the end of the first song, guaranteed.