Chart For The Solution
Trouble In Mind · March 26, 2021
Philadelphia-based duo Kevin Nickles (sax, flute, synth) and Daniel Provenzano (bass, vocals) bring forth relentless musical chaos as Writhing Squares. Chart For The Solution is their third studio album, and contains two LPs. The double album is “chock full of…heady, progressive, psychedelic space-rock-cum-minimal synth slop.” Its run-time, just over an hour, is made up of raspy bass lines, droning synth and percussion, and squeaky squawky saxophone riffs.
Writhing Squares’ sound is not for the faint of heart. The album’s first track, “Rogue Moon,” starts out with one full minute of unaccompanied droning synth. When presenting a long song, it’s important for the artists to earn and maintain the listener’s attention. Droning is characteristic of the genre, but this track drags on without enough compelling variation to warrant its nearly 12-minute duration. The saxophone adds modulations and something for the listener to hold onto, but the vocals only muddy the gritty bass line further.
The pitfall of the record is the duo’s habit of going too far with their experimentation. In several tracks, they employ abrasive screeching that might force the listener to turn it off entirely. The longest track on the album, “The Pillars,” is a whopping 18 minutes and 40 seconds of eerie and, at times, painful noises. The beginning of the track sounds like the listener is being abducted by aliens. This leads into an organ interlude with echoey shouting of lyrics like “salvation” and “the pillars fall.” This section provides hope for what lies ahead in the next 10 minutes, but this hope quickly fades as the organ is replaced with pipe sounds, mechanical noises, and other spooky atmospheric clangor. Some of these sounds – like high pitch and grinding modulations – are almost unbearable. The track feels like the soundtrack to an intense, anxiety-inducing sci-fi thriller and when it finally ends, the headache it caused is slowly replaced with a great relief.
Although the album offers few moments of respite, there are some tracks where the experimental concepts shine through. “A Chorus of Electronics” is a sparser track that begins with fazing electrical sounds that build into a raspy melody. It sounds ghostly, like a portal to another dimension, but not in a way that unnerves the listener. The song’s shorter duration – 1 minute and 55 seconds – allows Writhing Squares to explore the concept while maintaining its beauty. “Resurrect Dead On Planet Whatever” is another sparse track – the only one on the album without a foundation of synth or bass. The soloistic saxophone is punctuated only by low percussive chimes. The overall atmosphere feels like a funeral procession, but the stripped instrumentation allows the saxophone to shine without requiring it to scream over a cacophony of other ideas.
Kevin Nickles’ saxophone is the lighthouse that keeps the listener from crashing in the sea of the dissonant synth and bass. The sax and his other woodwind features – most notably the flute in “The Abyss is Never Brighter” – lift up the sound. The best saxophone solo on the record is on the highly conceptual track “The Library.” This track features a voiceover describing the Universe as a library and man as the perfect librarian – though the narrator suspects “that the human species will soon be extinguished / But the library will endure.” Nickles’ saxophone weaves between this voiceover, displaying his range as he connects high, squawky, sustained notes to dissonant, low honks with bluesy runs.
The best track on the album is its conclusion. “Epilogue” brings together the best elements of the album – the bluesy, squealing saxophone; the rock-centered bassline; and the soaring flute. The saxophone and bass play together well as they move together on the bass line, transitioning into the different parts of the song. The track also features guest musicians: Alex Ward on organ and John Schoemaker on live drums (as opposed to the drum machine utilized on the rest of the album). This song features the most structure and carries a melodic theme throughout. The instruments take turns soloing in between the unison saxophone and bass hook bringing the album to a strong, satisfying conclusion with a congruity that exists nowhere else on the record.
Writhing Squares are undeniably and unapologetically true to themselves. Few artists are allowed to discharge such unbridled expression, especially under a major label. Chart For The Solution is an out-of-body experience that will fry your brain – it’s up to the listener to decide if this is a blessing or an abomination.