The sound of Chicago trio Protovulcan is mired in experimental impulses and alien arrangements, with guitars and synths buzzing around each other while crunchy drums and filtered vocals ricochet throughout this wild musical landscape. Built around the combined rhythmic energies of vocalist-keyboardist Will MacLean, drummer Deric Criss and guitarist Nick Ammerman, the band eschews traditional compositions for something a bit pricklier, a bit more unfamiliar but still raggedly compelling.
The band will self-release their new album (a split EP), “Life is Twigs/Psychic Pinball,” on Jan. 25. “It got that name,” explains MacLean, “in part because both Deric and I had a number of life things happen, and I’d thrown at him the idea of recording with Steve Albini, for fun. He was afraid it’d cost too much, then one day texted me, ‘F*ck. Let’s do it! Life is twigs.’ Which sounded about right.”
Recorded by legendary musician and producer Steve Albini, the EPs encapsulate their unconventional approach to composition, favoring complex interplay and impulsiveness over restrained execution. Disregarding any notion of characterization, the music skulks from your periphery to the light and back again before you really get a good look – it’s often fractured and unkempt but manages a ramshackle coherence that’s remarkably intricate.
On recent single, “Snake Lizard,” they venture into a serrated rock territory, one that’s filled with metallic vocals, electronic ephemera and a propulsive percussive backbone. Filled with bouts of fleeting distortion and some prog-y overtones, it never pauses long enough to lay an allegiance to any specific genre, opting instead for a rolling momentum that covers a wide array of sounds before finally convulsing in a cacophony of thundered drumming, caustic guitar riffs and robotic moans. The accompanying video, directed by Evan Taylor and the band, finds the band performing while drenched in a collection of lo-fi VHS filters and features some truly strange surroundings.