|1||Victim of Redlining||2:02|
|4||Being Told You_re Wrong||1:43|
|5||This Could Mean Something||3:50|
|12||Old Connecticut Money||3:35|
On the cover of Landowner’s Consultant, a ghost in a sheet is illuminated by a flashlight, like some Scooby Doo villain unmasked. Over twelve ornately plotted yet stripped back compositions of self-dubbed “weak d-beat,” the Western Mass quintet casts light on the ghastliest misuses of power. Phantoms are banished for predatory behavior unchanged; racist housing policies possess those who thrive on generational privilege; precarization sucks workers into the creepiness of surveillance culture. Systemic critique is embedded into the group’s name—a sarcastic allusion to land ownership’s deep link with American power that’s also a winking jab at tough-guy punk monikers—and on Consultant, Landowner tackles these subjects with filmic parables that are biting and astute. Throughout, they demonstrate a canny grasp of rhythm, classical sense of arrangement, and a riotous bent for punk brutalism, especially at their quietest.
When city planner Dan Shaw returned to his home state of Massachusetts, capping off a five year stint in Seattle’s congested technocracy and essentially bidding adieu to his band Health Problems, he began to tinker with a different way of writing music. He found his new arts scene creatively inspiring, but his woodsy Hill Towns apartment was cursed with paper thin walls and an adjacent landlord. Shaw traded his feedbacking cabinets for an 8” practice amp and drum machine software, layering insistent bass lines with skittery guitar riffs, often interwoven in mechanized lockstep. He honed what he now views as Landowner’s special formula: “as if an abrasively clean band were reading the sheet music of hardcore songs” and tempering the showy bombast of the genre with “geometric sounding” guitars, eschewing distortion so that the parts can hit harder. “The creative formula of the band is that it’s supposed to be portable, lightweight, dinky,” Shaw explains, praising the liberating ease of performing without effects pedals and heavy equipment. “The band is formulaic by my own invention. I plug in, I write some riffs, and it sounds like Landowner instantly.”
That Landowner blueprint expanded from solo project to group endeavor on 2018’s Blatant, the inaugural release of Chicago’s Born Yesterday Records; Consultant is the full band’s second album for the label. Shaw’s collaborators are almost all formally trained musicians, and otherwise play in more maximalist projects. Drummer Josh Daniel (who also records Landowner at his collective studio space in Easthampton, MA) has an avant garde background, evidenced on the devolving, free jazz shifts of “This Could Mean Something.” He also plays in proggy, experimental band Hot Dirt with Jeff Gilmartin, one of Landowner’s two guitarists. The other, Elliot Hughes, performs with bassist Josh Owsley in driving post-metal outfit First Children. “It’s funny to have these guys playing repetitive, simplified music,” admits Shaw. “In their other bands, they all shred.”
But pushing accomplished players into Kraut-y repetition results in a kinetic, intoxicating variety of post-punk. Daniel’s drums demarcate but never trod, interspersing bustling accents that disorient the groove, occasionally dipping into shuffling, disco beats (as on “Mystery Solved,” a seven minute screed against “corporate industrial agriculture stubbornly fighting a global-scale doomed battle against nature”). Hughes and Gilmartin regularly riff in tandem, hyperfocusing on singular, patterned guitar lines, but whenever they deviate—even for a single, skronky harmony—it feels like enlightenment; they do so spectacularly on “Being Told You’re Wrong,” a rollicking satirization of toxic macho stubbornness. Owsley makes impressive use of his instrument’s range, frequently crossing into the bass’s trebly octaves to carry the melody, as he does against the helter-skelter, single note hook of “Restraint.” In songs built on motifs, rhythmic fluctuations feel outsized, giving minimalist arrangements a perspective of expanse. All of this leaves ample room for Shaw’s vocals, vacillating between a raspy sprechstimme inspired by Kim Gordon to sneering petitions in the tradition of his favorite yelling nerds, Steve Albini and Mark E. Smith.
While the instruments intuitively converse with one another, the vocals enact conversation literally, especially on “Confrontation,” where call-and-response whispers and interspersed speech evoke another of the album’s themes: talking through discord, turning a “showdown” with a final boss into a “productive disagreement, long overdue.”On “Stone Path,” featuring a melancholic progression akin to an 8-bit RPG soundtrack interpreted by guitars, Shaw pleads his point: “You could make things worse by staying out of it.” Landowner identify many wraiths—nepotism, capitalist scarcity—but apathy might be the most haunting. Working through your own wrongs isn’t easy, but willingness to change and grow is crucial. On Consultant, Landowner makes the case for shining a flashlight at the ghosts around you, starting with the ghosts in yourself.