Lead in your Pencil

Sheffield combo Out Ink here with their second release titled Less (INK INC-CD002) … the team of Sam Neilson, Jonathan Willmer, Brian Ellis, Jon Willis and Lee Knights perform four lengthy songs and instrumental pieces (and one short one) playing their unique brand of heavy, jazz-inflected avant-rock music.

They seem to have advanced a bit since we first heard them on their 2018 debut – they sound more confident as a unit, more sure of each other, and there’s more attention paid to group dynamics, plus a certain amount of effort in aiming for a more “unusual” sound by way of guitar (or saxophone?) treatments, such that on a track like ‘The Nit’ we hear several instances of a rather melancholic keening sound, much like a whale lost at sea trying to communicate with his fellow undersea mammals. Out Ink are also still fond of doing the “stop-start” method as a group, harder to do than you might think, which requires slowing down and restarting with as much finesse and skill as a stunt-driver motorist behind the wheel of a Mini on the set of The Italian Job. Evidently, the group have found a shared method of playing that enables them to fuel some quite lengthy marathon sessions of 12-13 minutes apiece; it’s not simply a matter of learning chord changes, one suspects, and they’re evolving a rather clever framework that sustains their interest, and ours, without ending up as a meandering “jam session” or a flailing workout of flabby improvisational nonsense.

This method is particularly noticeable on ‘Sober Dance’, an unstinting 10 minutes of high-octane jazzy prog (with vocals, yet) that doesn’t know when to quit. In fact, one often feels that the whole album is quite exhausting to listen to. This might be because the group sound is very full (lots of cymbal crashes, for instance), and very full-on; every so often one wishes for a breath of air in among all the thick layers of accomplished playing. The cover drawing by Lee Knights is almost the visual analogue of that sound, packed with detail and incident, creating a free-form hallucinogenic sprawl where it’s hard to pick out individual figures and details. Even so, this is a marked improvement on the 2018 model, and though the contextualising verbiage (from Malcolm Lewis) still clutters up the cover, asking the age-old question “Do you disapprove of holograms?”, there’s less of it than last time. From 3rd February 2022.