Between last year's The Castle EP and this year's The 911852618 EP, Chapel Hill trio Hazerai became a different band. Well, sort of: The members remain the same, but bassist Adam Kish relocated to guitar while vocalist and guitarist Steve Wright moved to bass. Drummer John Crouch remains behind the kit, but—with the frontline flipped—his rhythms, like the band itself, evince a newfound precision that makes each Hazerai 2.0 track feel like a cinematic race for a prize through a minefield.
The differences here stem largely from technique: Whereas Wright added wide, almost tectonic sweeps to Hazerai's walloping fuzzy math with the guitar, Kish's six strings etch meticulous, intricate maneuvers that turn prickly twists of phrase into controlled-mess melodies. On last year's highlight "Rell Ghosts Break In," Hazerai washed an instrumental midsection in distorted long tones, down-beat pounding and feedback whispers. Kish holds things closer to the band's center, favoring short phrases and less distortion, and the band meets his challenge. Opener "Relay Replay" is split into two sections, and Crouch forges from one to another with a 20-second drum roll, his brio giving the rest of the band a lofty platform. They use it to land one of the album's heaviest salvos, mechanized rhythms slamming down like a leaden ball against concrete.
Wright's whiplike, mid-range bassline during "Racing Berbers" comes split by Kish's tiny, high-register guitars, supplying a clever volley/return momentum. Hazerai capitalizes on that antiphonal tension by faking a coda, going silent after two minutes only to return punchier. Bass, voice and drums trade bars with the guitar, eventually uniting in a defiant, concluding march.
Just a year ago, it's something Hazerai would have busied or blurred. But 911852618 fits the same number of songs as Castle (four) into four less minutes, even though things don't seem truncated or cursory. Directed by parts with more aim, more simply fits into less. At 150 seconds, "Racing Berbers" is a slender alleyway into closer "This Night," an almost martial bark-and-drum track. Wright's voice, captured better by Nick Petersen the second time around, mixes commando orders with amphetamine squeals, and it leads the way here: Raging about a party that didn't end well, Wright screams, "This night is shut shut it/ shut!" The instruments slash into and out of his words, bonding a strong, angular frame like pieces of Wire. Solid construction, for sure.
Hazerai plays Sunday, Nov. 11, at The Reservoir with Grappling Hook and Arks at 10 p.m.