Pfaff have a strange name and they play equally as strange music...in a brewery
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Charles Leek, Bark Media
Pfaff have a strange name and they play equally as strange music. It’s jagged and mathematical, always one step ahead of you, leaving you unable to predict where it’s going next. Indeed, drummer Phil Jackson admits that math rock is a “slightly selfish style, really. It's as much about keeping it interesting for us and unexpected for people,” and for the instrumental trio, in the absence of a vocalist, it is, as cliché as it may sound, all about the music.
They have just released their debut EP, entitled [etty] [ippin] [esome] [ickin] [iends], and we here at Manchester Rocks urge you to listen to it. Recorded in a single day, it is amass with odd time signatures and even more peculiar beat placements that, despite the band’s refusal to be predictable or anywhere near what many a soul may define as ‘normal music’, manages to be enveloping, addictive and uncannily catchy.
Gary builds on atmospherics erected through effects lathered guitars before a twisting math rock boogie explodes, intertwining with snaking, more tranquil passages. Here, the mix is dominated and orchestrated by either slick tapped clean guitar playing or some pinpoint but clanging bass guitar. A compelling opening track, it was a long time in the making, and the song which sparked the band’s birth.
“I met Jack (Guitar) at Sounds From The Other City [a Salford festival celebrating music and the arts] in 2014,” Jackson tells us. “We were both pretty drunk but we got on really well straight away. It soon turned out we were both really into some weird, confusing music. From what I remember, The Mars Volta, Battles, newer Radiohead, Three Trapped Tigers, Adebisi Shank, and Giraffes? Giraffes! were part of a much longer list. We decided we should have a jam sometime, so we swapped numbers and staggered our separate ways.”
But things weren’t quite as straight forward as you might imagine.
“After a while I kind of forgot about it,” he continues. “Then, a year later, I got a text saying, something along the lines of, ‘Hi, it's Jack. We met at Sounds last year and I've written some tunes. Fancy meeting up?’ It was pretty unexpected and I've no idea if he tried anyone else first - I'll ask him later! - but we met up in the big room at the brewery where he works and it was fun.” The song, with Jack’s friend Andy soon coming in on bass, would later become Gary.
And so, they needed a name.
Says Phil: “Jack works in a brewery and one of the regular clients was a guy called Bob Pfaff. It's a fun name to say and we settled on it when I saw the word PFAFF in big letters on the front of a shop in Portugal. Turns out it's a German sewing machine company but I didn't know that at the time, so it was a bit of a weird moment....”
An equally, if not more incredible name comes in the form of the EP’s second track, The One Where Joey Punches Rachel In The Throat. Like its predecessor, it is another exercise in yin and yang, where they flip between two musical dimensions. The first is an immediate, rumbling passage with staccato drum hits and twanging, single note guitar lines, the second formed through sweet chords raked alongside jittering musical freak outs. They are, at all times, very precise in their playing, executing their songs with a great conviction. What is great is that, on a song like this, while what they are playing is simple in its minimalism – Jackson gravitates almost exclusively around his snare and hi-hat, while Jack’s choice of notes is narrow. It isn’t so much what they are playing here that comes off as impressive as it is how they do so, and this is an EP filled to the brim with interesting and exquisitely enunciated rhythms and repetitive ear-worms that burrow deep into your head as they roll out.
Elsewhere, Portable Water is hinged on a massive, Kashmir inspired groove, using it as a springboard to leap into a myriad of crazed and carefully ramshackle jams while Thermonoodle draws from fellow Mancunians Cleft with its bouncing, happy sounds. Each song is strong in its independence, adding further flavour to the greater whole.
“There are amazing vocalists and there are less-than-great vocalists. I can't speak for the other guys but personally, the rhythm, melody and interaction between instruments is what draws me into music, says Phil of the band’s decision to remain instrumental. “I'd be as happy listening to a great keys player or trumpeter as I would a vocalist.
“The lack of vocals in Pfaff gives us a lot more room to be creative with what notes we use and where we put them. We can bounce rhythms around between the three of us, and the bass and guitar can exchange a melody and accompaniment without having to worry whether it all fits with what a singer's trying to do. For instance, The One Where Joey Punches Rachel… came from me wanting us all to play on different beats of a bar of 3/4. Once we have something that sounds like a hook we just sort-of take turns trying to come up with ideas for developments and new sections. Sometimes we'll put an idea or a gap in an odd place because it definitely doesn't fit and just sounds weird. Sometimes we'll jam a section in 4/4 and then keep the notes but shift it into a different rhythm.
“It also means we can create music based on the ideas and mood in the room at any given moment, without the need to tie parts together to fit a fourth person's idea of what the music's about.” And, as far as Manchester Rocks are concerned, there are no arguments about the results of such intrinsic experimentation.
So what about the band’s future plans?
“The original idea was to have a recording to be able to give promoters to try and get gigs! We weren't sure whether our playing would be tight enough to be able to release it, or how many tunes would be on the finished thing. To be honest, it's just great to have something that sounds so good and really represents the noises we try to make in the brewery. Hopefully, more people will hear Pfaff because of p[retty] f[lippin] a[wesome] f[rickin] f[riends] and we'll be able to be able to play our music in front of more people. We have a couple of gigs booked for the autumn but we're always looking for more and we'd like to have another EP written and recorded early next year.”
The record is out now, click on the Bandcamp player to pick up a copy. You can also find the band on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PfaffMath/