Normal Love is a Philadelphia-based experimental quintet. The ensemble is made up of two electric guitars, bass, drums, and violin, and the oddness of the band’s sound more than matches the novelty of the instrumental make-up. Normal Love’s eponymous debut is a parade of frenzied dissonant passages abbreviated occasionally by briefly sustained blasts and a few passages of slower noodling. With this first offering, the band members demonstrate their prodigious virtuosity. They also give a glimpse of their unique and broad sonic palette.
Normal Love claims a range of influences, including both modern composition and death metal. “Ndugo,” the album’s fourth track, even hints at Tin Hat-like deconstructed cabaret. This is a group that steers away from easy juxtapositions in favor of a deeper synthesis; it’s not one of those bit-of-this-bit-of that affairs. Actually, it’s hard to come up with any direct precedent for its sound. Stylistically, it probably comes closest to Ruins, the noisy, manic Japanese prog group. Like Ruins, Normal Love emits aggressive, staccato streaks of notes that abruptly stop, start, fragment and mutate. Ruins, however, assaults the listener, pummels the listener’s body with an onslaught of furious riffing and lurching halts. Normal Love doesn’t reach this level of intensity, and maybe the members are not trying to. But as adventurous and uncompromising as this album is, it’s ultimately less affecting than it at first promises to be.
At the opening of “The Signal’s Coming from Pittsburgh [Part Two],” a guitar with a fuzzy, shimmering tone meanders lazily and a rumbling bass line moves in beneath it. It’s a brief but beautifully beguiling highlight of the album. Actually, it’s the moments like that make this album compelling — the places where the group stops pushing forward so intently and concentrates instead on creating atmosphere transcend everything else that’s going on here.
It would be nice if the musicians stretched these parts out more, but what makes this debut laudable is its refusal to make that kind of concession to the listener. There are plenty of other musicians who want to give you bliss. For now, Normal Love would rather mess with your head.