Everytime I plug my iPod in and select You, I get this very distinct image of Liz Hysen in a Thomas The Tank Engine style face on train situation. She is morose and looks horridly depressed, and the train slowly but relentlessly chugs up the side of an unclimbable mountain, spewing thick smog in its wake. It's unsurprising that my mind conjures this picture, the sad state of affairs projected by Picastro is desparate, desolate and at times downright depressing. They inhabit a curious niche in the musical landscape. Too down trodden for Low, too sparse for Swans. You could call them post-rock for the Depeche Mode generation, or Slowcore in the realm of Mark Kolezek. The truth is though, they inhabit their own lane.
It's one that hasn't deviated dramatically since Red Your Blues in 2002. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to identify a real element of their music that has seen a dramatic change. You remains locked in to what makes Picastro so delectably depressing. Each track is painted with their own brand of rainy day motif, each moment is carefully thought out as to appear spontaneous and explosive. You can almost see them, sitting in a room together not speaking, each locked in their own inner hell, only making eye contact when the moments of cymbal clash and guitar tuning come to an end and it's time to get down to business. There are delightful Mick Turner moments, like at the start of State Man, where they sound little more than a band going through sound check. It's these environments that allow the paranoid cognitions of Hysen to take form.
This is the beauty of the beast for Hysen and co. These almost demonic song structures give such depth and stark aggression to her minds eye that there is absolutely no let up. I liken it to watching The Day After, or playing Fallout. There's no sense of achievement, even within moments of relative grandeur and glory. The listener is crushed under a sheer weight of morbidity. They achieve this through a masterful use of strings. The beginning of Two Women, for example, could be an almost light-hearted affair, with an instrument resembling a lute plucking an upbeat jest. But those awful, downtrodden strings just reach in to your soul and extract its demons. Baron In The Trees takes a similar route, a wailing harmonica-like synth just saps the life out of its surroundings. Hysen extols it wonderfully, bleeding herself sick to blend in with the tone.
Hysen is, in fact the true hero of this album. The way she shapes her voice around whatever mood has been selected by Nick is nothing short of Ono-esque. She uses it to build tension. On Vampires her whispered delivery is simply menacing when partnered with those futuristic synth notes, and she works herself in to frenzy of falsetto on Judas Claim to meet an ear splitting note at the top of its cadence. Her utilisation of her voice as another way to enhance the tension and aggression of the music is what propels the record. There is a Thom Yorke quality to her delivery, at times it is impossible to understand what she is saying as she mumbles and masks her way through, but each time it provides another angle. It's akin to taking on the boss on the highest level of your favourite game. You're out in the cold rain and snow as it is, surrounded by blood and death, and Hysen darts in and out of your picture, jabbing at you and disappearing before you can get a handle on her.
It's in this sense that you cannot pigeon-hole this record truly in to a genre. There is enough evidence to suggest that post-rock exists, but the use of acoustic guitars almost lends an Irish quality. There are healthy jaunts here, they've just been sucked of life. There's little around right now that can match Picastro for sound and feeling.
Picastro take a giant melting pot of sounds and boil them down in to music for the soul. Be realistic: you're not going to cruise the beach with this pumping out of your system. The honey's are going to roller skate next to the convertible with R. Kelly playing, or the one with the Grim Reaper in the back seat. Both would be preferable than Picastro under those circumstances. But You will sidle up to you in a dark alley at 4am and take your life. It'll be your companion as you navigate through the darkest of moods. In this way they are very like Swans, it's almost a cathartic experience to listen to. To maintain such menace and malice throughout all ten tracks is more than admirable.