After 15 years together, the trio Cantwell Gomez & Jordan play less often than they once did, and their recordings have slowed to a trickle. But if the Triangle's preeminent skronk-rock combo—and one of the state's most reliably ferocious bands—has slowed down in any other respect, it's impossible to tell by listening. Their latest effort, Half-Finished Bobcat, hits as hard, fast and, somehow, joyfully as anything they've ever made.
Formed in 1999 by drummer Dave Cantwell, bassist Anne Gomez and guitarist David Jordan, Cantwell Gomez & Jordan made three succinct records and a pair of splits before Half-Finished Bobcat. Those releases paired remarkable instrumental dexterity and an irreverent attitude, allowing the trio to move between math-rock intricacies and free-jazz spasms, post-hardcore outbursts and no-wave riots. Each instrument vying for the lead, their arrangements led to dizzying deconstructions and synchronized grooves. While Half-Finished Bobcat isn't as abrupt as its predecessors, the record maintains the band's trademark exploratory playfulness.
Jordan recorded the album at the band's practice space in Gomez's house. Tackling one song every few weeks, they cut instrumental tracks live and then overdubbed vocals. "This leisurely method appealed to us," Cantwell has said. It complements them, too, as Half-Finished Bobcat suggests a band glad to have nothing to prove. With that freedom, Cantwell Gomez & Jordan reveal surprising ties to experimental but accessible indie rock; the frazzled riffs and deadpan vocals of "And Spaghetti" and "Faerie Peril," for instance, are only slightly more challenging than Polvo's classics. This trio has aged out of the need to be strange.
Still, even in its most structured moments, Half-Finished Bobcat shows Cantwell Gomez & Jordan haven't lost their edge. Cantwell Gomez & Jordan have always reveled in the undoing, and the musical counterpoints of "Faerie Peril"—Gomez's hollers, locked in battle with a tumultuous rhythm section—keep the song from settling. "Where's The Mermaid Love?" culminates in a shout-along coda, which the band bark in a cadence that suggests both protest chant and schoolyard taunt. During "JCG Trilogy," Gomez yells, "Wanna fuck shit up!" She both approximates and lampoons punk impulsiveness, as the band members battle within the whirlwind around her.
This trio's lasting vitality stems from the obvious connections between its players and their willingness to challenge each other, like kung-fu masters testing each other's skills for the sport of it. Despite the music's volatility, Cantwell Gomez & Jordan have never been antagonistic shit-starters. Rather, the band's irreverence is subtle, manifesting itself with an inviting energy rather than aloofness. (They write songs called "And Spaghetti" or "Otters in the Kelp," hardly radical at face value.)
Perhaps it's this general amiability that has allowed Cantwell Gomez & Jordan to stay fierce, focused and free without a glut of material or shows. Instead, as the trio operates at what Cantwell describes as a "comfortable pace," they feel immovable. They are a local staple that doesn't understand surrender. —Bryan C. Reed
This article appeared in print with the headline "The nerve."