Strange Cut is a collaborative alternative rock project by artists from Mexico, the United States and Quebec, Canada and was built from a previous band called A Life Among Ghosts. Officially based in Richmond, Virginia, the band just released a new album titled Strange As It Seems, which is just the first in a projected series of singles, EP’s and albums.
The members are Jarrod Bround (lead vocals/lyrics), Rob Dessimoz (bass), Nathan Burns (guitars/synths), Josh Schmidt (guitar/backing vocals) and Andrew Hylton (occasional guitar/backing vocals). The players are not hard-wired into each song: the band prefers to rotate personnel from track to track, to “provide freshness in texture and technique.” They describe their music as “a blender mix of 1990’s to 2020’s rock and alternative music.” The main focus is on drums and bass paired with layered guitars and synths, along with Latin rhythms and grunge sounds, while keeping things “generally pop accessible.” Their main influences are Beck, The Stone Temple Pilots and Queens of the Stone Age, “who manage to have a recognizable sound in spite of artistic pivots from record to record.” Mixing and mastering was by guitarist/vocalist Josh Schmidt.
“Backlit Gown” starts with the volume knobs at 11, with walls of fuzzy minor chords and a plaintive lead melody. Jarrod Bround sings in that somewhat affected post-Lou Reed alternative style, with echoes of The Killers or Strokes. This song’s got an interesting locomotive stutter beat, occasionally edging into disco; as they mentioned, it’s clear the band spends a lot of time on the beats. The guitars range from sharp to deep fuzz. Eventually there’s a very convincing vibes patch that follows the drums. Wrap it all up with some surprisingly sweet backing vocals and you’ve got a hell of a song!
“You Poor Devil” ushers in with eight seconds of amp distortion: fair warning for what’s ahead! This one features a faster beat and more driving guitars. Though the verses are fairly straightforward (with a dark, spooky streak), there’s a quick break where the guitar and bass melodies go completely off the farm, and I couldn’t have been happier. The chorus vocals seem to grow in thickness and stature with each line, as if the background singers have all emerged from a Lord Of The Rings burial cave. Love the lyrics such as: “Wine, women and bourbon… desperately romancing my salvation.” I can only describe the guitar solo as built from some kind of Middle Eastern scale, and it has exactly the kind of unexpected impact I wish I could get with my own solos. And there’s more of that to come!
“Shotgun Reasons” veers more towards traditional (but still very heavy) blues rock. What I love about these guys so far is that they never let a beat or rhythm grow stale with repetition; they’re always adding or subtracting along the way, even if slightly. There’s a short but cool guitar harmony lead toward the end. “Hail Mary” has a killer chord progression that anchors a song absolutely packed to the gills with dark, pervasive sound. The chorus melody has an unexpected Japanese pop quality. I was surprised at one point to hear an acoustic guitar, mostly that it was even able to peek through! The background vocals are again of the reverb-drenched, ghostly variety. Same goes for “Say What You Will” which is as close to a rock ballad as these guys may come. The band mentioned an interest in Latin rhythms, and indeed this track features some quite interesting percussion touches, plus more focus on keyboards and a sweet phasing guitar section. Bround’s vocals feel a bit more authentic and heartfelt, with a bit less alt attitude. “Say What You Want” obviously has a similar title to the previous track but is otherwise quite different, with razor sharp Telecaster guitar lines and another incredible offbeat lead with some whammy action.
“Snake Feet” is notable for a higher-pitched Jagger-like vocal over a roiling, percolating beat, like “Emotional Rescue” played at double speed. “Black Kerouac” is a great title, and feels like a Strokes-Pilots sandwich to me. Steady rock beats, great “pointed” guitar lines and restless bass. “Trigger Happy Love” is yet another example of Strange Cut’s mastery of offbeat chord structures, clearly rock but always unusual. This track has more of a rock combo feel, with a bit more air between the instruments. “After Thoughts” features a spoken-word lead vocal while the guitars sound like they’re processed through a carburetor. The sweet chorus harmonies work as a great contrast to the otherworldly, staccato guitars.
“Rapture” fades in from what sounds like a scratchy vinyl demo, before kicking back to life full-force. Bround sings this one like it’s his last song on earth, with the music reaching almost prog-levels of complexity against a relentless one-two beat. “Isn’t the Rapture going great? / Glad I got to participate!” Hard to argue! This is a perfect album capper with the band firing more Japanese-sounding riffs on all cylinders.
Though I don’t think this music is as widely “pop accessible” as the band thinks it is, they do have a unique and powerful style and my interest never flagged. Check it out!