Hardcore aside, very few notable full-length albums in the history of music are 25 minutes long or less. There’s Joyce Manor’s Never Hungover Again, Sneaks’ Gymnastics, Sports’ Sunchokes, and maybe one or two more LPs by a band named after, let’s say, foosball. Knife, the cutthroat debut album by Baltimore’s Mast Year, belongs in that conversation. So does the band, as one of the most exciting upstarts in noisy post-hardcore since KEN Mode reared their ugly-beautiful head. Mast Year’s music gurgles, gargles, grunts, and grumbles like creatures crawling their way out of a swamp—really talented creatures that know how to play their musical instruments very well.
Mast Year are young. Very young. As of April 5, the quartet had only played four shows. Ever. Prior to Knife, they only had a two-song instrumental demo from September 2021 to their name. But with Knife, they tap into every emotion—from dreaminess to spite to introspection to paranoia to, ultimately, resignation—like expert artists. There’s the rousing album opener, “Fukboi,” a dead ringer for The Jesus Lizard’s first tune on Down, “Fly on the Wall.” “Weeping Tongue” is a tension-building torpedo that could easily be confused for a Shellac song. Under an infrared camera, you can probably see Jeff Mueller’s finger marks all over “In Tandem.” Hell, the production even sounds like Knife must’ve been made at Electrical Audio.
So yes, at various intervals, Mast Year could be confused for other angular, challenging post-rock bands. But because there aren’t too many of them floating around these days, Mast Year are setting up camp at a lush lea that no one else noticed was deserted. Pitching the tent is the rhythm section of Darin Tambascio on bass and drummer Ben Price, who keep it interesting with the occasional change in time signature. Guitarist Noel Mueller is so slick, and his handiwork so seamless, he should get time and a half. And vocalist Eric Rhodes keeps it current with ample amounts of sprechgesang.
For his part, Rhodes seems to connect most with the spirit of “Loser.” He takes over the track, yelling every lyric as if it were his last breath. “Burn your face / Gouge your eyes / Lose control / Self lamed / Cut your teeth / Earn your heart / Break your bones,” he screams at the top of his lungs. And those are some of the kinder words he has to say on Knife. Rhodes’ other cutting remarks include: “I had a vision of / Greener plains / And cleaner air / I saw right through / Our blue world / Is Dead.”
By sequencing “Golden Winter,” the song in which those lines appear, as the last track on the album, Mast Year prove they have more personality than most bands only half as jaded as they are. Across the entire album, the group never gets lost in technique and turn into the post-rock equivalent of guys standing and staring at a construction site. They’re already smart enough to, at all times, keep their eye on the ball.