Rolo Tomassi – named after the LA Confidential referenced character “who always gets away with it” – have always been about technique and brutality. Their songs are stream of conscious snippets bound by flurries of notes, locked grooves and furiously hammered keyboards. Vocally, there’s rarely been much deviation from the bezerker roar of Eva Spence, or James Spence’s growl.
But with the Diplo-produced Cosmology Rolo Tomassi are moving on from outright bluster to some degree, while the elements that made the band so striking in their infancy remain.
The woozy keyboard introduction of Katzenlavier may sound as if the band have embarked upon a synth-based exploration of an outer space, but it is quickly set about by the rhythm section and dragged into the swirling abyss of Agamemnon. The sci-fi synths continue to seethe in dramatic fashion, assaulted by pummelling drums, regimented mathematical guitars and those bowels-of-hell vocals that should not be coming from the mouth of a lady, unless possessed by Captain Howdy. House House Casonova completes the early onslaught – with blazing vocals and crushing percussion it’s utterly brutal.
Then things start to change. Party Wounds is an almost funky affair; the first sign that the band have started to move on from the out and out aggression of their earlier work. It’s not immediately obvious among the time changes and ferocious outbreaks, but there are rampant funk bass runs and delicate voices in the melee.
Unromance begins as an almost danceable affair before it careens off the tracks into a hardcore frenzy that further demonstrates the band’s phenomenal technique.� By the three minute mark an ambient wash cuts in. On a Rolo Tomassi song? It’s unheard of. A menacing back beat and atmosphere remains, but Eva’s vocals sound like an angel drowning – beautiful and sad in equal measure. It’s the first time the notion of her being other than a banshee screamer has raised its head.
But it’s the closing tracks that find Rolo Tomassi striving for something beyond blinding sonic terrorism. Kasia is a genuinely beautiful affair with a wonderful keyboard melody (yes – really) introducing the song. James still hollers his lines like a black metal gnome, but Eva coos subtly to counteract his bluster. Eventually the song thunders into familiar territory, but the seeds have been sown. By the time Tongue In Chic’s not quite straight-up rock dissolves into an electronic ballad with a soaring vocal from Eva, any assumptions concerning the band’s sound are thoroughly called into question. Nevertheless, that anything so delicate and melodious could come from Rolo Tomassi is quite perplexing.
Closing with the title track – a kind of a really fucked up version of the theme to Tales Of The Unexpected – Eva is once again revelling in stretching out vocally, and once again her performance incredibly affecting. Musically everything has changed too. The pace is practically stately, the melodies almost poppy and the conclusion possesses an astral majesty that ranks as perhaps the best thing the band has ever done.
Such things are strange in the world of Rolo Tomassi, but they’ve created a range of possibilities for themselves. The thought of what they might do next is almost too exciting; in the meantime, Cosmology is a great album from a band surely destined for great things.