Ian Williams, guitar.
M. Eric Topolsky, bass.
Kevin Shea, drums.
Storm&Stress LP review
by Aaron Burgess Alternative Press - September 1997
Nothing about this Pittsburgh's band debut is obvious, save the finger-tapped guitar notes, bass sounds, drumbeats and random vocal mutterings that jut out its interior like stalagamites. And besides "Micah Gaugh Sings All Is All," an awkward yet unifying mid-album pop tune played by a guest singer/pianist, each of the songs is an enormous understatement. As such, it's emotionally affecting in the way Slint or Codeine's sparse, melancholy music is affecting. But Storm&Stress are more tricky than either of those giants because they're neither direct nor apparently concerned with your following them towards a specfic end.
Everything seems implied: the melodies, the rhythms, the sense of flow. Formal gestures, "This is a verse" or "This is a beat" or "This is harmony," are erased, leaving behind only a breadcrumb trail of hints. Whether you follow it is your choice, but to find the structure you need to get past the maze of Ian Williams' stipple-painted electric-guitar notes, M. Eric Topolosky's bass blurps and Kevin Shea's fanned "jazz" drum hits. Perhaps you could call their playing modal; you could as easily call it confused if you chose not to dig below the surface. Storm&Stress are already two steps ahead of you down there, unlearning music from the inside out and coming to terms with the fact that the notes are only temporary. What they leave behind is the song.
Storm & Stress' signature is rock music minus a beat
by Ed Masley Pittsburgh Post Gazette - August 16 1997
In the midst of a seeming random soundscape that owes as much to the framework of free-form jazz as it does to rock, a voice on the Storm & Stress record says, "You're a an electronica girl and I'm a rock guy. I don't think we have a chance."
Its a funny line, but the song kind of makes you wonder just how much of a rock guy the vocalist is.
"We're playing rock," says Ian Williams, "I mean, sure, it would be ridiculous to claim that there's nothing to do with jazz on the record. But I think we see what we're doing within a rock framework primarily."
In the Storm & Stress press kit, Williams describes it as "rock without a beat." And the beat-free rock of the band's debut on Touch & Go isn't nearly as improvisational as it sounds.
"Obviously, each time we repeat a phrase, it might bend or shape a little bit differently, but generally, it's all a pre-planned route," he says. "We wrote things we called songs, and I have a feeling that if you see us, you'll recognize everything pretty closely from the record. I don't know. I mean, I'm not the one in the crowd watching. Maybe it is sort of incomprehensible."
Storm & Stress marks the release of its record tonight with a show at Brew House Space 101 in the South Side.
Asked how he feels the approach of this band to that of his other project, Don Caballero. Williams says, "Don Cab is maybe more rhythm-oriented and tight. People all hit that note together. The Storm & Stress thing is maybe like a Don Cab song, but if you sort of just blur your eyes so you can only just see rought fuzzy shapes."
They recorded the album with the famed and/or imfamous Steve Albini, who also produced "For Respect" for the Don.
"He does what he does," says Williams. "And what he does will always sort of be there. If you ask him to record you, there's going to be a certain soundscape already created because he's doing it."
He sort of thought it should have been bassier. So we had to argue to take a lot of that bass out. And if you listen to his Don Cab he can sort of emphasize the boom boom ba-boom element of rock, and a lot of that is maybe not presented on the Storm & Stress record."
Albini and Don Caballero will be back in the studio on Monday to work on a single. From there, the band is playing a show in D.C. recording an album possibly doing a local date in September. Not bad for a band that, many would have you believe, no longer exists.
Everybody just sort of went ahead and assigned us as broken up," says Williams, "although, to us, we kind of just weren't playing. And it was almost fultile to protest [the supposed breakup], so I don't think we ever went to any effort to quell that rumor."
Storm And Stress LP review
by Michelle Kliensak Smug - July 1997
Storm and Stress is about deconstruction. Taking an aural cue from the non-linear jazz that filtered out of supper clubs in the late '50s and early '60s their music crescendos then galls, then rises again. Patterns give way to repetition, yet you never know what's coming.
Storm and Stress murder melodies. The first song, "We write threnodies, We write with explosions" (a threnody is a funeral dirge) is easly assumed to be about the loss of a girl to a seemingly impossible situation. Former Don Caballero member Ian Williams even incorporates a trendy reference to electronica by warbling, "You're an electronic girl and I'm a rock guy/I don't think we have a chance." But if Storm and Stress are singing dirges, it's not for some electronic chippie; it's for the death of the melody in their own songs.
They mastered the repetition of a pop song, yet the songs lack the ingredients that makes a tasty pop lick. But this insufficiency is intended. Named for the German literary movement Strum und Drang, characterized by the impetuosity of manner and anti-establishment ideals, Storm and Stress have started a pop revolt from within-within their own music. Like Sonic Youth, they want a teenage riot, but unfortunately they don't know where to begin.
Storm&Stress performance review from Louisville, KY
by PC The Joy Of Burt - August 1997
You were probably at the big art-noise extravaganza at the Flashback on Friday July 11th, with Crappy Nightmareville opening for this trio from Chicago. You probably though they were really awesome. As much as I thought they were a bunch of wankers (jack-offs), the rest of the crowd sat rapt, entranced by every anti-musical movement. I was driven from the bar near my wits end, flabbergasted that so many could be fooled by what seemed to be no more than disorganized stream of meaningless grunts, bangs and clanks. Score one for cultural bankcruptcy. Whatever happened to melody, rhythm, lyricism? To its credit the album is slightly more cohesive (sounds exactly like Gastr Del Sol except with full band arrangements), but it still doesn't sound like music.
Storm&Stress LP review
by Stacy Oasbaum Magnet - Sept/Oct 1997
Music with a manifesto seems to be inherently '90s from Nation Of Ulysses/The Make-Up to Bis and Comet Gain. Ian Williams (Don Caballero) and a few other musos including Micah Gaugh (who's collaborated with Cecil Taylor, DJ Spooky and a host of others) employ veteran producer Steve Albini and severely deconstructed pop music, eschewing any form or traditional structure and opting for non-liner noisescapes steeped in impulsive drums and rounded out by intermittent bass and occasionally strummed guitars. It's all very ambient, with Williams muttering random words like "crippled symmetry" and "body language." Glass shatters, bass drums explode, guitar notes evaporate into the ether and joints are rolled. Titles are obtuse and signify nothing: "Dance 'Til Record Skips Like Passengers Shift On Take Off," "Piles Of Blinkers Slip For New Years." Possesing Storm&Stress is guaranteed to make your friends believe you're artsy and radical.
Storm&Stress LP review
by Rob Brunner Entertainment Weekly - 7/25/97
This trio of guitar, bass, and drums creates disjointed improviasations that favor texture over structure. Too often suck avant-rock radicalism results in monotony rather than boundary-expanding innovation. But by opting for surging rhythmic patterns instead of outright chaos and by blending in the occasional under-stated vocal, S&S make music, not just noise. B+
Storm&Stress LP review
by Robert Lomax Flagpole - 7/16/97
"Rocket 88" this is not. Storm & Stress's debut Touch and Go release shares little, if anything, with traditional rock'n'roll structure. Sure, the tools employed are still the same (guitar, bass, drums, the occasional piano), yet these instruments are utilized in an entirely unique manner, shattering any preconceived notions of what rock'n'roll is or should be. In other words, Storm & Stress is not radio-friendly.
The band, fronted by Don Caballero's Ian Williams, takes it name from the German literary movement, Sturm und Drang. In their press kit, which reads more like a manifesto, Williams cites everythnig from European serialism, the Ramones, even the smells of July as influences, stating that Storm&Stress' music is "about an impossible situation," a blending of "the improperness pop artifice mixed with legitimate attempts at being serious;" he finally concludes, in rather defeatist fashion, that the band's music is filled with "teenage aspirations" which, unfortunately, "teenagers proabably don't want to listen to." Hmmm...I've heard critics over-intellectualize rock music, but never a guitarist.
All ramblings aside (by both Williams and me), this music truly defies categorization. I can find some similarites in early and mid-60's jazz, most notable Ornette Coleman and the later work of John Coltrane. Kevin Shea's chaotic drumming--a swirling, slashing style that moves in and around the music--is especially reminescent of Elvin Jones (one of Coltrane's finest drummers). Unlike in rock music, where a riff or melody is presented, then repeated relentlessly in adherence to a strict time signature, the guitars in Storm & Stress merely suggest patterns, providing thin, pliable frameworks from which Williams and bassist M Eric Topolsky expand and explore upon.
At times, the music drops into a state of complete inactivity, a pregression freezing just as it was beginning to take shape; then, without warning, Shea erupts behind the drum kit, propelling the song not necessarily forward, but into another space altogether. This is radical stuff. This is punk rock.
Storm&Stress LP review
Aiding & Abetting - July 1997
If The Lost World is a high concept movie, the Storm & Stress is perhaps the ultimate low concept band. There is simply no way to explain what this band is doing (much less try and guess why) in my standard 150-work review.
Perhaps this will explain things better: Two of the guys play with Marc Ribbot, and Ian Plays guitar for Don Caballero. Indeed, the first main obstacle for the band is figuring out where to practice, as Pittsburgh and New York aren't exactly neighbors.
But once they worked all that out, this disc got produced. Seven songs over 59 minutes, so you know you shouldn't give up on a song just because the first six minutes made no sense.
In fact, very little makes sense in a lineal, mathmatical equation approach to music. Luckily, there are other ways of approaching things, and Storm & Stress has found but one.
In yet another chaos-inducing move, the photos which decorate the album were shot in a truck which was decelerating very fast (this is why everythnig seems to be flying). Pretty damned cool, eh? I thought so. Storm&Stress LP review
by Richard Moule Exclaim! - Sep 1997
The players come with impeccable credentials: guitarist Ian Williams toils with neo-prog-rockers Don Cabellero; pianist Micah Gaugh and drummer Kevin Shea have supported Marc Ribot, DJ Spooky and Cecil Taylor. Bassist M Eric Topolsky also plays with Golan Globus. However, lest anybody thinks the Don Cabellero equation wins out in these exhausting, improvised free jazz workouts, they're in for a big surprise because this debut harkens back to the freedom of '60s ESP movement and is contemporary with the current cast of characters in the NY downtown jazz scene. It also has resonance with Incus label work of Derek Bailey. These are formidable, muscular improvisations that leave little room for pause. Storm and Stress seem to have little time or patience for constructing structures or exploring nuances. Far from it, they seem intent on extending dense riffs and rhythms, stretching them, repeating them, destroying them, burying them until they are wounded and doubled over, then reviving them and pummelling them again. Jump cuts and cross-fades are the order of the day and yet this is ensemble work at its finest, with each one listening to the other intently and anticipating. Although Shea has to be singled out for Elvin Jones meets Han Bennink rhythmic explosions that cajole his fellow bandmates to keep up. And for once Steve Albini doesn't leave his handprints all over the production here. Thank God for small mercies.