January 13, 2021
Photo: Jonny Golian (Reporting From 20xx)
How far can the limits of genre be pushed? Five-piece avant-garde rockers GASP from Rock Hill, South Carolina are hard at work finding that out. Their latest release, Left Hand Band, is a bewildering collection of eleven songs that range from prog-rock to post-punk to psych-rock, stretching the boundaries of each genre with a unique style that can only be described as stranger than most.
GASP has clearly gone to great lengths to ensure that no listener can define their sound throughout the near hour-long sonic journey that is Left Hand Band. Every song defies the previous one, keeping listeners consistently on their toes as they work through the album, leaving only one throughline: there are no rules for this band.
Just shy of seven minutes, the album’s opener “Influencer Light Expander (Sunshine)” is the ideal introduction to that theme. It begins with short, catchy guitar licks that eventually morph into meandering solos and ambiguous lyrics with an almost operatic croon from primary vocalist Josiah Blevins. It’s a track that sets a clear precedent for the listener.
Those whose curiosity remains piqued are in for a gut-punch with “How Much?,” a post-punk anthem that couldn’t possibly be more removed from the album’s intro. With that shockwave over with, after three minutes, GASP transitions to a pseudo-Americana rock sound on “Can U Not?” From here, the record maintains a tenuous consistency, oscillating at whim between post-punk and experimental progressive rock with several deviations like “Basic Pleasure Model (Jettisoned),” a musical free-for-all with no clear direction. “I Shall Be Free” takes a softer, more ethereal touch, featuring a full choir effect toward the end of the album.
After listening a few more times, the bewilderment persists, forcing you to come back, like a puzzle you can’t solve. Whether it’s the cryptic lyrics on subjects like romantic estrangement and existential disorientation or the music itself, with simultaneously conflicting and complementary styles, this is a record with some staying power.
This kind of experimentation becomes the foundation for progress in any genre, and GASP clearly does not plan on remaining confined only to one. Left Hand Band takes a leap of faith like never before, and that may be ostracizing to some, but enticing to many music appreciators of multiple genres.