With it sounding akin to a celestial dogfight between between Frank Zappa and Alpha Male Tea Party along with it being produced by math-rock stalwart Tom Peters (Wot Gorilla?, Cleft, Body Hound), it’s no real suspire that How Soon Is Mars? is an unconventional and wildly contemporary affair. The debut from Bristol’s Last Hyena, How Soon Is Mars? is a madcap and franticly unpredictable offering that sees the group alchemising the most eccentric elements of eclectic math-rock and transcendent post-rock prior to delivering the results with agitated energy and spontaneous flair. Even for those well versed in the turbulent instrumentalism, it’s a wild wide.
Yet for the band, this sense of abnormal erraticism is the crux of both their work and ethos. Forming within the musically rich and culturally hidden niche that is the underground Bristolian outsider-rock scene, Last Hyena came into creation with the focus on crafting music that challenged and provoked all that experienced it. With that in mind, one may automatically assume that simultaneously tackling post-rock and math-rock would be the initial origin of their sound. But as the band detail to us, in the beginning they had no preconceived ideas on what musical route they wanted to travel down; they simply wanted to challenge themselves.
“When we started Last Hyena there was no preconception of what genre we wanted the band to be”, state the band when asked about how they approach the subject of genre. “We just started writing together and the album is one of the results. We enjoy writing and playing music that is challenging both for ourselves and for our audience. Once, a friend of ours came to numerous shows and worked out one of our sections so we then changed all the stabs to different points.”
In consideration, it’s easy to see why the group’s take on instrumental rock is just so volatile and impossible to pigeon-hole. Too math for post-rock, too post for math-rock and just too plain unorthodox to be detailed as banal prog rock, across the group’s releases Last Hyena crash through a range of genres with the fluctuation of an off-course missile. The trio’s initial EPs – 2018’s I Remember The Future and their respective 2017 self-titled effort – saw the band barrelling though all things math, post and creatively wild with a total disregard for genre conformity and rigid rhythm theory. Riffs explode into transcendental musical supernovas, structures transform and dissolve into new forms with no warning and time signatures begin to break themselves down in fashions that defy advanced maths. There’s a profound jazz like fluidity in their work, one that was embraced and adopted as the ideology of How Soon Is Mars?
“The album was written on a completely improvisational basis,” continue the band, “We all just sit down in our practice space and then someone will start playing a riff, we then kinda jam along and suddenly the song starts to take form. The end riff of I’m Supposed to be the Good One’, was actually the first part of the song we wrote, so then we had to work backwards. That’s kind of how loose our writing process is; we have a section set in stone, then see what stabs and pauses we can ram into it.”
A sidewinding tour of all things musically challenging, mentally provoking and standing proud with total disregard for dull music theory, as one would expect almost immediately from experiencing the record, How Soon Is Mars? bathes in a space inspired theme. From the cover art depicting humanity departing for Mars, the time signatures within the album playing out like those calculated in crucial pre-spaceflight equations to the actual title itself, the record consistently enjoys a star-dotted aesthetic. Even the energy within the record is buoyant with the childlike sense of hyperactivity that many entertain when thinking about the limitless wonders above. Yet, true to the band’s sense of improvisation, the theme was never contemplated during the early stages of the album’s creation and was only embraced and fully realised as the album neared completion. From there, it was devoted to one of early pioneers of space flight; Laika the soviet space dog.
“The space theme just slowly started to fall into place the closer we got to finishing all the songs. Once we'd written all the songs we were looking at the names and meanings and if they tied in together at all. Everything seemed to keep returning to “Where’s Laika?” - the second single from the album. It soon became clear to us that the album was this journey through space through the eyes of Laika.”
“The album's title was never as literal as lets get everyone to Mars. It was more conveying a frustration and tiredness of being in the current state of our world. Like a kid asking mid car journey “are we there yet?””
"We actually had an audience member cry during the last song of our set once and came up to us like “I have had the worst week and that song felt like it was about my week.""
Even with its musical contents being daunting excursions into whimsically abnormal rhythms at their most progressive, it’s essentially impossible not to enjoy the debut effort from Last Hyena. It’s a record that utterly disregards genre and musical conventions like they don’t exist, and with a characteristically playful sense of wonder coating the record, authentically animates an aesthetic that’s as complex and wondrous as their take on deeply progressive sensibilities. But regardless of the album’s orbiting theme, one of the key elements of How Soon Is Mars? is one that’s inherent to both the worlds of math-rock and post-rock; it’s ability for listeners to project their own stories and meanings to the music.
"All of our songs are very contextual, they all have their own meanings and thought processes behind them,” say the band signing off. “However, we want people to write their own stories and have their own meanings to the songs. We actually had an audience member cry during the last song of our set once and came up to us like “I have had the worst week and that song felt like it was about my week." Even though it wasn't written with that in mind. The songs don’t even necessarily mean the same thing to us as individuals.”
How Soon Is Mars? Is out now via Stereobrain Records.