Oakland three-piece Preening is Max Nordile (saxophone, vocals), Alejandra Alcala (bass), and Sam Lefebvre (drums). Gang Laughter, mostly recorded in the summer of 2018 by HL Nelly at Santo in West Oakland, is Preening’s first full-length. The album follows three 7”s on labels Ever/Never, Fine Concepts, and Digital Regress, and at least three self-released cassette tapes since 2017. Jackets screen-printed in Oakland by Fine Concepts.
Our take: Preening has put out a slew of records over the past few years and Gang Laughter is their first 12”. It continues with the format the band has honed on those previous releases: a catchy no wave / post-punk sound with locked-in bass and drums a la Gang of Four, a skronky saxophone, and two vocalists, one furious and one more deadpan. If you liked those earlier records, you’ll enjoy Gang Laughter, but what’s more exciting is how this record pushes at the edges of the band’s sound. Specifically, there’s a This Heat-style experimental streak that seems to run through the middle part of the record. The a-side’s closing track, “Red,” double tracks the sax for an eerie effect and the only vocals come from a sinister-sounding laugh track. Then the b-side opens with “GL,” an instrumental that sounds like it features both a regular piano and a toy piano. “GL” is the most This Heat-esque moment on the record, a spacious and winding composition that serves as a perfect counterpoint to the record’s more aggressive tracks. Genre-pushing bands like Preening always walk a fine line between pushing their sound forward and maintaining a consistent voice, and Gang Laughter balances those adeptly. The beautiful screen printed packaging is a nice bonus too.