Todd Rittmann co-formed the Chicago no-wave band U.S. Maple with the intent of deconstructing rock music. That they did. The band spoke in its own musical language. Riffs were subverted with mangled guitar spray, rhythm by shambling unbeats, proper singing with Al Johnson’s Dylan via Yow mewls. Rittmann’s new project D. Rider rides the same outré spirit toward a different horizon, one that relies less on weirdness than unsettling settings of ordinary parts.
Mother of Curses was built around improvisations that Rittmann performed on a minimal trap set. That explains why each song sticks to its own groove and dark vibe, and why shaken spray-paint cans and guitar skree fit alongside the synthesizers, horns and vocals without distracting — the album’s not about musical narrative so much as the architecture of mood and sound. When that bass comes in to kick dirt in yer face into “Dew Claw Don’t Claw,” we know what we’re gonna get for the next six minutes. Humming synth noises and stuttering kick-snare oscillate throughout, maintaining the squint-inducing, off-putting tension at a low boil. “Touchy” is equally tense, its throbbing bass and whispered chorus, “I can be a cowboy when you touch it/ Touch it/ You can be a princess when you touch it/ Touch it” succeeding at the sexy/creepy combo where Puscifer failed. Mother of Curses is mood music for American Psycho characters.
D. Rider’s innovations are also their weaknesses. While the flowing, assembled vibe of Mother of Curses makes for a unique listen, it rarely reaches beyond the realm of sonic curiosity. Even Massive Attack, those kings of slow-motion electro-brooding, had songs. For the most part D. Rider have atmospheres. Condensed into shambling beats and Rittmann’s constricted vocal melodies, but still atmospheres. “To the sea to drink the brine/ Just to taste the madness,” sings Rittmann over flanged heavy-metal chords on album closer “Misery Whip.” It’s a mission statement.