Article by: Leanne Ridgeway
Southern California‘s sludge conquering sultans -(16)- returned June 5th with their eighth full-length album, ‘Dream Squasher‘ on Relapse Records, and today we’ll review it. When I first saw the announcement, that absolutely striking cover art by Marald Art is what first stunned my senses, but then I heard the first song…
There has always been simply ‘something’ about the music of -(16)- that hits me right in the enraptured feels. Somewhere in the early 2000s was my first introduction, likely via their ‘Zoloft Smile‘ album (“Damone” still brings joy no matter how long it’s been). Ever since then, the band never fails to cocoon all angst with a heated blanket made of a tightly knitted blend of barbarian fury and luxurious futility.
Whether it was ‘Zoloft…’, or the earlier ‘Curves That Kick‘, ‘Drop Out‘, or ‘Blaze Of Incompetence‘… it was intoxicating. Album and song titles of amusing rancor that gave away their belligerent intent, combined with the always malevolent cover art to instantly clue you in that an elaborately harsh pummeling of body and mind was waiting inside. Listening brought you the immediate reassurance that there were others who could be infinitely angrier than yourself.
The audacity of talented musical fearlessness is ingrained in its core, through all the lineup changes and life events, their need to make heavy music doesn’t quit. They released ‘Bridges To Burn‘, ‘Deep Cuts From Dark Clouds‘, then most recently was ‘Lifespan Of A Moth‘.
On tarnished silver platters, every album -(16)- serves us is a fresh feast of vicious comfort to satiate, soothe, and scour the dread off any oncoming apocalypse. ‘Dream Squasher‘ is no exception to their musical consistency, but it has been enhanced with a peculiar hope.
Some album intro tracks are two or four minutes leading your mood or build anticipation, but “Candy In Spanish” gives you exactly nine seconds of guitar squawk as its only forewarning that you are indeed about to get your head completely caved in. As the rhythmic battering started, it caused me to become deeply elated from the sudden awareness of what was about to happen in an album of ten new songs.
Guitarist and now lead vocalist Bobby Ferry initially said about the album: “A conscious effort was made to inject positivity into the lyrical themes. The best we could come up with is loving your dog so much, you’d end up killing yourself if the dog dies.” Which is something many understand, if you’ve owned ‘that’ dog. The dog that saved you, that rescued you back. I owned that dog, too. I’d have murdered for that dog and she made sure to let all those around me know the feeling was mutual. Track two “Me & The Dog Die Together” explains that bond with rampant thunder, whirling guitar tornadoes, and the fierce roars of conviction.
“Sadlands” gives us a slowly churning melodic plea of doom with some surprisingly clean vocals. This is about as close to what could be considered a ballad as would be possible for a band like -(16)-, with a structured break for guitar solo, even. Then “Harvester Of Fabrication” and “Acid Tongue” come in immediately after to throw us right back into the crushing reality with their extraordinary thickness and solidly resonating mood shifts from the anguish of “Sadlands” to pure ferocity from every angle. The caustic vocals in “Acid Tongue‘ are occasionally offset with spoken sampling but pile on to the anxious destruction by both the utterly relentless rhythm section and the counterbalance of guitars.
‘Dream Squasher’ Tracklist:
01. Candy In Spanish
02. Me & The Dog Die Together
04. Harvester of Fabrication
05. Acid Tongue
06. Agora (Killed By A Mountain Lion)
07. Ride The Waves
08. Summer of ’96
09. Screw Unto Others
10. Kissing The Choir Boy
“Agora (Killed By A Mountain Lion)” is a complete sonic bruiser and lyrically conveys the mindset of the agoraphobic and, although likely written prior to Spring 2020, it’s attuned somewhat serendipitous to the quarantined mind. “Ride The Waves” leaps out of the gate to fully eradicate any doubt of how heavy this band still is, it pulls zero punches.
With overall a meld of brashly disguised hope, ‘Dream Squasher‘ is therapy by way of dislodging buried rage, displaying sincere love and gratefulness, and still fulfills its self-titled goal. Thankfully, -(16)- has proved successful in their ability to never lighten up.
‘Dream Squasher‘ is out now on CD, vinyl LP, and digital formats via most streaming outlets. Physical options found at Relapse Records store or Bandcamp. Digital download and streaming options are available all in one shot.
Bobby Ferry – Guitar, Vocals
Alex Shuster -Lead Guitar
Barney Firks – Bass
Dion Thurman – Drums