Dour post-punk albums -- the kind made with strangled, one-note riffs, thrashing bass lines and plenty of sardonic humor, usually in a cockney accent -- don't get much hairier than this. Leeds-based Bilge Pump may be art-punks at heart -- they certainly follow the template, unleashing abrasive hooks, awkward time signatures and speak-sing vocals on already imposing fragments of songs -- but underneath the cool anger is a heaviness that hints at other, earlier messes made by bad-boy psych bands like Blue Cheer or Funkadelic at their most fuzzed-out and primal.
This means that most of Let Me Breathe gets more bang per minute than any simple rehash of a single source or scene would (favorite references these days: PiL and Gang of Four). Opener "Up the Nest", for instance, might grab you by the throat with its dirty, squealing riff, but this isn't purely a militaristic attack -- drummer Neil Turpin's rolling, swinging drumbeat, complete with cowbell hits, demands not marching in place but loosely shaking your thang like a hippy at a hardcore show. Tracks like "Timothy Moyler", with its spastic but groovily interlocking bass and guitar lines, or "Dour Hogwax", which drops the album's biggest blotter-riff, mix slashing, atonal notes and spat-out vocals with the deep-in-the-gut psychedelic wildness of an earlier era. The band mix things up even more on "Sling Yr Hook", a rubbery, Ex-like excursion into free noise, and on the drunk-sounding "I've Got Questions For You", which breaks into a tongue-in-cheek jazz run halfway through its 1:30 running time. For a three-piece from such a well-defined corner of punk, Bilge Pump sure have their bloody claws in a lot of great, wide-ranging ideas -- not already mentioned: lead guitarist Joe Mask's flubbery solos, which, weirdly enough, sound like Robert Fripp on crack cocaine, and the band's off-the-cuff sense of humor, which gives otherwise mangled rockers like "There's No Rules to Love" ("I love Mr. Darcy!") or "I've Got Questions For You" ("Who should I befriend? Someone with problems") or "Fireworks" ("Show me some of that there nature shit.") a dose of approachable fun.
Serious punk doesn't have to be tedious -- a tendency even some of the best bands from the early eighties UK ferment occasionally fell into. Bilge Pump avoid it by letting loose, dredging up other influences and switching back and forth between them like anything-goes flower-children, casually hitting home runs wherever they bat.