This is strange indeed. The last Less record (reviewed 2+ years ago) was a blast of MTV ready prog-gloom post-metal, equal parts Tool, Rage Against The Machine and Nine Inch Nails with strange and wonderful math rock filligree a la Don Caballero. We predicted that in a couple years we'd probably be seeing them all over MTV if there was any justice in this world. So you can imagine how surprised we were when we first threw this, the new Less record, on. A completely different beast altogether. Well, not completely. First off, there's not a distorted guitar to be found. Anywhere. And all traces of pounding percussion have been replaced by skittery brushwork and delicate whispery shuffles.
The riffs remain, still sort of doomy and heavy, but slowed down, played on a steel string guitar, giving them a sort of backwoods mystery and acoustic urgency. This may be stripped down and acoustic, but it's definitely not wimpy. This is dark and heavy and groovy, grim and sinister, creepy and crawly. Slightly distorted/reverbed vocals wail minor key laments over dirgy minor key doomscapes, vocals slithering between the riffs, tense and intense. Lots of ambient murk, backwoods twang, and sinister groove.
Think Sixteen Horsepower crossed with Deadboy And the Elephantmen, or Woven Hand mixed with Agents Of Oblivion, or an even darker, creepier version of Alice In Chains' acoustic record Sap. Recommended.
- Aquarius Records
Depending on your tastes, when Less's Piano Wire Smile came around in 2001 you either loved the hard rock firepower or thought you'd been fooled into listening to Alice in Chains. While some folks had Less tabbed for The Big Time, that break never came. Now here we are three years later, with the band's second full-length portraying a stylistic shift and a musical maturity that may have been lacking the first time around.
Probably closest in spirit to a Godsmack album—if Godsmack were smitten with a case of bardlike wandering—Cover, Protective, Individual
is magisterial and disgruntled, filled with epic passages and low murmurs.
It's not a theme album, but it does have a larger-than-life feel—it's a dark fable for a modern age. Each song is another tale woven into the sonic tapestry, flowing together as the track numbers fly by. The lyrics are intoned in classic Layne Staley fashion, but are always secondary to the nimble riffs and foreboding atmosphere. This isn't the sensationalized story of a dragon killer; this is the weak-kneed, sweaty-palmed gut check that is conveniently left out of the legend.
Matching ornate, discordant guitars to staccato rhythms and spiraling song structures
, Less grab your attention early and make it easy to lose track of time. The small moments pull the disc together—the vinyl scratches and escalating intensity of the topical "Patriot Act", the steely, Jimmy Page-worthy drone on "Our Sin". Granted, sometimes the songs blend together a little too well, but there's something to be said for crafting an hour-long opus from a collection of taut riffs and knowing growls.
Perhaps Less' failure to conquer the world lies in their inability to be pigeonholed; record labels aren't exactly seeking out the Next Big (Unclassifiable) Thing these days. It doesn't help that their style has shifted between albums, from a Tool and Nine Inch Nails feel on 2001's Piano Wire Smile to a gypsy guitar grunge that's closer to Led Zeppelin circa "Kashmir". They're too nuanced for "industrial", but they're also too structured for "noise", too gothic for "folk" and too creative for the murky "DIY" blanket misnomer. Thus I find myself inventing genres in which to file them just so I can pretend I've wrapped my mind around this sonic gem.
It's a false confidence, but it helps me cope.
- Justin Kownacki, Splendid
Dark acoustic guitars fill each track of the second album from Less' Cover, Protective, Individual
. The sorrowful acoustic guitars that are very similar to that found in much of Latin music are accompanied with soft yet wounded vocals. Poetic and unsettling lyrics can be found in several tracks, as is seen in "Motionless": "I recognize these scars / from bedsores, not from whips / From lying, not suffering at all / The wind blows and it uproots the trees / Bodies blow like glitter in a breeze / You can dance or you can try to hide / But I know which way I'd rather die." Now, you probably won't be popping this album into your stereo while laying out at the beach discussing fashion tips, or probably not even when you are pumping iron at the gym while pondering what's for dinner—but that's okay. This album is rich, mysterious, and sobering, much how life can be at times.
- Anthony, Skratch Magazine
For those who consider themselves too indie for the likes of Tool, yet invariably intrigued by darker, more smoldering avenues of rock, here's one of two options to consider: Either (1) Bite the bullet and just listen to Tool you silly snobs! Where's the shame in it? Or, (2) take the scenic high road if you insist and listen to the talented three-piece Less. This San Francisco based group offers a compelling variant of the bruised, righteous indignation typified by Maynard Keenan's vocals and Tool's steady, driving artillery of art-steeped instrumentation. The differences come subtly; the music touches upon influences of Radiohead and Godspeed You Black Emperor, both in composition and production, yet draws upon inspiration in Middle-Eastern folk. The songs "Our Sin", and "Meltwater" are steeped in this latter influence; their hellish harem-tents peaking upon ancient, fevered deserts, their lyrics compounding this atmosphere: "Judas' lip my ears / kiss with the abuse of lullabies full of empty lies / today I went to let the others only see the halo / that I return with the empty hat of salvation / let my intellect be wrecked that I might expect resurrection / oh where have you gone?" The sinuous, bridged triptych of "Buried in Sand," "Down on the Dead," and "All is Well" is by far the most impressive portion of Cover, Protective, Individual
. It is a vocally subdued, delicately layered epic
, pinched with quiet, abstracted sampling, and busy with Eastern incantations. Less would be wise to focus on this as their definitive direction into fame's uncertain fray. Indie-rockers would be wise to put down their pretensions and entertain this album for all its worth.
- Leslie Henkel, Performer Magazine
Less is a curious band. That is my first impression after learning that, according to my trusty press release, their previous album, Piano Wire Smile, is alterna-metal roughly in the vein of Tool, NIN, and Rage Against the Machine. That introduction certainly can't prepare you for the sounds contained on Cover, Protective, Individual
(apparently Less obeys the time-honored tradition of naming albums by haphazardly combining three unrelated words).
Cover, Protective, Individual
consists mainly of lots of spooky Middle-Eastern tinged acoustic guitar melodies backed by bleak, droning, and equally spooky vocals. The percussion and other sounds are minimal and fitting of the dark Eastern vibe: a few occasional drum sounds, rattling on bells, occasional background electronics, and even a horn or two. This is slow-moving and absorbing stuff. There are really no hooks here, and nothing that could be described as catchy. Cover, Protective, Individual
seems to run together at times but has its captivating and even hypnotic moments
when given full attention. The album's dark atmosphere is well decorated by the beautifully recorded acoustic guitars which are upfront in the mix and crisp enough for you to hear fingers scraping the strings.
Other facets of the album are fully congruent with the musical direction. The lyrics are opaque and have a frightening quality to them. Or maybe it's a "would be truly frightening if I could only decipher them
" quality. As you would expect, the album art follows suit: dark, obscure, ambiguous. A blurry, tilted photo of a Victorian looking woman. A bunch of parchment with blurry, unreadable writing. Whatever. Add up the music, the lyrics, the artwork, the album title, even the band's name, and you'd have to try really, really hard to be more obscure. If Less goes platinum, I think we can be assured of thousands upon thousands of fans writing long philosophical expositions about its songs. These will be eerily similar to the legions of Internet message board posters who write treatises concerning the relationship between Tool songs, UFOs, and satanic geometry.
That is all beside the point though. The bottom line is that Less have created a dark, engaging, and musically interesting album. Those who demand obvious and immediate hooks will run far away. For those who appreciate a bit of depth and experimentalism added to their brooding, acoustic rock album
, then Cover, Protective, Individual
is just about a must-listen.
- Alex Baia, leftoffthedial.com
Cover, Protective, Individual
is a pretty drastic turn for Less, the San Francisco trio that released the psychedelic metal record Piano Smile Wire back in 2001. On their debut disc, Less allowed post-grunge to make out with progressive metal. This time around, the curiously named Foot and friends have toned down their more outgoing elements to create an even darker, more sinister affair; sweeping and droning textures have replaced the metal attack of its predecessor. There is little traditional rock drumming on the disc; the percussion is moody, invocative and careful.
The vocals, too, are buried deep in the mix, and no single part really sticks out. The whole thing reads like some big painting where every fragment is equally central to the general motif, giving no clear indication on what to look for as the main theme.
Upon first listen, then, Cover, Protective, Individual
is a bewildering record, the music translating as chants as much as conventional rock music, sounding like an Alice in Chains-infused Tool covered by acoustic Led Zeppelin. It starts to make sense after a while, though; the recurring guitar lines, the anguished vocals, the repeated patterns gain meaning when regarded as a whole. Certainly, Less is no single band. This album is best understood as an entity, rather than a collection of tracks.
It's a challenging album—annoying even—in the way it sticks to the idea of never rushing things and taking its time. But the album is all the more impressive for going through with it. Less are still too idiosyncratic to appeal to a wider audience, and they must not have been looking for hit singles when they cooked up this one. But for those willing to give the album the time and the energy, Cover, Protective, Individual
could prove to be a true gem.
Not for the impatient listener, but anyone else could do worse than give this one a chance.
- Stein Haukland, Ink19
These are bleak times, my friends, and Less has served up the perfect soundtrack.
Sure, you could do the big, heavy, over-the-top guitars to usher in the end of the whole freakin' world, but on Cover, Protective, Individual
, Less opts for the more haunting acoustic guitar and sparse percussion route. The songs churn uneasily with Layne Staley-like vocals lurking in the mix. It's dark, it's depressing, and still you can't turn away.
- Chris Lupton, Impact Press
Local three man band Less (not to be confused with Lesser) spits out a caustic blend of Tool and Don Caballero and Rage Against The Machine
. I can't really figure out what these guys are doing releasing their own CDs, when they should be on MTV and touring with Tool or Nine Inch Nails or something. Super well recorded, heavy and catchy with great vocals way up in the mix. Weird chugging riffs, relentless rhythms, bizarre squiggly leads, convoluted song structures. Lots of sinister ambience and dark fury. Stretched out melancholy instrumental passages explode into jagged shards of acidic guitar and stuttering syncopated fills
. I wouldn't be surprised if in a couple years we saw these guys all over the place, MTV, Spin, whatever. If this were a magazine I might say 'next big thing'. But it's not, so I won't. Not for those of you underground rock snobs, but for those of you who dig Tool, A Pefect Circle, Rage, NIN, that sort of thing, should definitely check this out. Pretty great.
- Aquarius Records
Less is a dark heavy rock band that would most likely appeal to those who enjoy bands such as Alice In Chains, Disturbed, A Perfect Circle, System Of A Down, Tool, etc. I'm actually quite surprised that they're not played on the radio or have videos on MTV. They have a big budget sound with a well produced recording quality.
The music here is created with guitar, bass and drums. These instruments are played very well and show that the musicians in Less are indeed skilled. The singer has an appealing rock music voice and sings as well as shouts. Most of the songs are fairly aggressive with harsh guitar strumming and slamming drum beats. But there are also calmer moments to be found here as well. So there's a good amount of variety offered throughout this recording.
While Less doesn't really do anything new or different, I like the fact that they're not jumping on the so called "nu metal" bandwagon just to become popular. Less is an honest rock band. They set out to make solid rock music
, and that's exactly what they accomplish on this album.
While I've pretty much given up on the entire commercial rock music scene due to so much cookie-cutter marketed crap, it's nice to see rock bands like Less prove that there are still musicians out there who want to do their own thing without following any trends.
I expect Less to become rather popular in the near future. With a little more exposure, they could easily become one of the bigger rock bands of today.
- Darklight, Wrapped in Wire
First things first. The packaging for this CD is too clever for its own good. I'm sure the guys in Less wanted to strive for a very mysterious, impressionist look, but unfortunately their logo is so indistinct that I didn't even know the name of this band until I put the CD into my CD rom drive to get the information off cddb.com. If someone came across this CD in a used store, there's a good chance he or she will pass it over due to lack of any recognizable features in the artwork.
Enough of my moaning and bellyaching. Less is a trio that has come about due to the crop of bands that either fell into the grunge wave or the nu-metal wave. However, before metal purists immediately discount Less as Slipknot wannabes with obscure artwork, it should be heavily stated that Less' sound is derived from the better bands who got lumped into those categories. Most prominently is the Tool influence. Whether you like them or not, Tool is a credible and creative act and it's no badge of dishonor to have them as an influence. I'd be more worried if a band said Avril Lavigne was an influence. In fact, I'd probably would recommend locking anyone who said that into an indie record store and force them to expand their CD collection beyond the twelve free CDs they got from that record club deal. But I digress. Back to Less. Less' vocalist also has that despondent, morose Alice in Chains approach to his singing without the "whoa-whoaaaaa" inflections Layne Staley specialized in. For Less' purposes, the singing works. The songs are fairly well written and constructed, but definitely not immediately catchy. The one drawback, however, is the seventy minute length of this CD. After so long, the songs tend to blend together and lose my attention. Piano Wire Smile might have accomplished more with, er, um, less. A forty minute release may have had a bigger impact.
Less might be a little excessive with the quantity of music and a little miserly with the artwork, but they've at least established themselves as a potentially impressive act. While I'm not blown away by Piano Wire Smile, it is certainly a good effort that deserves a little attention by those who absolutely love the Tool effect on hard rock acts.
- John Chedsey, Satan Stole My Teddybear
This mysterious San Francisco three-piece has released what surely must be one of the greatest 'growers' this year.
At first I dismissed this entirely, listening to it once before throwing it into a corner immediately afterwards. Compelled to review it, I dug it out once more, put it on and, surprise, surprise, haven't taken it off since. Musically a cross between Tool and Soundgarden, the album kicks off with the groove-fest
'It's over', an angst-ridden tale of a broken relationship - "I have these beautiful sharp teeth/I will chew my leg off/just to put a stop to this pain." Nice.
Elsewhere you have the weird and wonderful 'Lie Still', the musical equivalent of a slow-burning fire
, complete with some gorgeous banjo-plucking flickering near its climax. This leads straight into 'Glad to no you', with its almost Hawkwind-ish instrumental intro. Highlight has to be the atmospheric 'Pressure Mining', a 7-minute plus vocal piece de résistance
, reminding this listener of a lone, haunting Gaelic voice which will surely make the hairs on the back of your neck stand if you listen to this in the dark. It's not all atmosphere and banjos
, though; Less can rock with the best of them. See 'Tar' and 'Another Rapist' for mosh-friendly bouts of violence. (You have to please the kids, right?) It will take many listens to absorb the hidden depths littering this album, but, take it from me, if you give it time you'll be pleasantly rewarded.
- Ken Blackmore, Sorted Magazine
From the San Francisco region, the harder edged, deeply dark overall ambient sound of Less pulled together this full length effort which highlights their penchant for the the high wailing turned dark vocals and mostly strum based rock guitar. Featuring (and these names tell the story) bassist shamash, drummer blang, and guitarist / vocalist foot, Less has a sound that intrigues, not quite walking into any one specific genre but rather holding a distinct sliver of their own musical niche.
Of the tracks on this disc, some of the highlights include "Garrotte" which works with a dark, depressed theme and moves well come chorus time, "Don't Fear Me" which offers a fish hook guitar curl to open with foot's deeply melodic voice setting off the entire track, "Glad To No You" which opens with a creepy feel and works itself through an instrumental type approach, "Another Rapist" which opens with some chunky type rhythms before working at an even clip, and "Tar" which opens on a mellow note before moving into the Less trademark, dark, moving, thematic music.
Right from the outset, Less provides such dark imagery, guitar orchestrations, and overall ambient feels that this sound depresses and entertains in one small space of time, breaking in these creeped out musical sections before jumping the sound to a quicker clip. Less works with a harder edge rock sound but never full swings in the territory. There are some obvious metal tendencies here as well, but they never approach that sound altogether either. Rather, Less is a combination of each of the above mentioned, but yet, uses heavier guitars and a melodic vocal approach that at times heightens into a semi-bark in line with the faster rhythms. Less has done a superb job with this disc, combing the sound to the point of confusion, but yet applying enough different, dare-say traditional cliche "weird" structures to make this sound accessible. Just something about this band and sound that sparks an interest, but they seem to have kept that intangible vague enough to hook the ear. Nicely done.
- Mario, Powerslave
From improbably almost-ripping off AC/DC
's "TNT" on "Imp" to harmonizing, Alice in Chains-style, over slow, grinding chords on "Mortar," Less play brooding in-your-face grunge/nu-metal, all heavy riffing and Eddie Vedder-vocals. Epileptic tempo-changes
make you count at least 24 songs rather than the 12 listed on the cover, but they're still far less adventurous than System of a Down and more approachable than Tool. Certainly sharing a kinship with the more eerie grunge bands through the obvious shadow that Black Sabbath cast over them, they're also seemingly influenced by Sisters Of Mercy and similarly styled '80s goth. At times, the over-dramatic, almost Krautrock vocal delivery
becomes a bit too much, but those kinds of songs probably wouldn't have it any other way. Too self-indulgent both musically and lyrically to be considered a fully realized album, this is nevertheless a promising effort from a band who's still learning
- Stein Haukland, Ink19
San Francisco's Less are full-on into Tool mode. Not to say that the band themselves are tools, no. I'm pretty sure they are nice kids trying to make themselves a niche in the cruel music business. Although I can name quite a few bands who are tools... nah...haha...
This is a self-release, and everything from the packaging to the recording quality is class all the way. Even their arty website is premium hi-grade quality, although for the most part, the art gets in the way of useful navigation. At least it looks nice. Some serious money was spent on this project, so either one of them is a trust fund kid or they went heavily into debt putting this together.
Musically, Less is good. They've got that same dark, arty feel that Tool came up with. And therein lies the problem. It's too much like Tool. Darkly atmospheric rock combined with Middle Eastern vocal inflections and arrangements. I mean, there's nothing wrong with the music. It's compelling, maybe a bit too long at 71:29, but it's a great soundtrack for an evening of serious mopery. It's just a little too much on the Tool side. Like your older brother or an annoying friend.
Don't let this discourage you though. Visit the site, download some tracks (if you can find 'em...but then again I'm not the brightest candle on the cake) and judge for yourself. The band has chops, I just think they need to incorporate a little bit more of themselves into the mix.
- Chris Barnes, CustomHeavy
Like your music dark and borderline psychotic and your musicians ticked off? Then, local trio Less is your kind of band. The bitter stench of frustration emanates from its latest release, 2001's Piano Wire Smile, a heavy, hardest rock homage to great guitar-driven bands like Metallica and Tool.
- SF Examiner