Somewhere between electro-jazz and avant-prog-rock rests Minnesota's ARP of the Covenant. The trio's self-titled debut marries electronic and acoustic sounds, eschewing categorization, at times proving to be a rather exciting glimpse at what this band is capable of. Other times... not so much.
The band, as its name would suggest, is wholly obsessed with the ARP synthesizera 1970s-era analog synthesizerand, it seems, any other synthesizer, keyboard or laptop; anything electronic capable of sound manipulation. Led by keyboardist and electro-geek Mark Siegenthaler, the trio is rounded out by drummer Nick Ziealinski and bassist Brad Townsend, who also employs the occasionally pitch-shifter or other sonic manipulation voice to further thicken ARP's electro-acoustic stew.
"Bad Alternator, powered by Zielinski's proactive drumming, sounds more like Sacramento's instrumetal (that's not a typo folks) trio Hellaone of many amazing projects spawned from the polyrhythmic and tireless wrists of drummer Zach Hill. Zielinski, Townsend and Siegenthaler seem to be in a race with one another; Zielinski is the frontrunner but Siegenthaler does his best to push aside, try to hold back, or trip up the drummeranything to gain a competitive advantage while Townsend lays back, laughing at the two's utter tomfoolery.
Such an exciting track, such energy; such a disappointment, then, that "Bad Alternator is followed by a subdued cover of the Eurythmic's "Jennifer, silencing any notion that Arp of the Covenant is going to be a caffeinated workout of a record.
"Jennifer exposes one of this record's sonic failings. ARP has an incredible sense of dynamics, switching from progressive sounds, that could push the best PA to its limits, to severely subdued and almost inaudible mood pieces. This reworking of the Eurythmics' 1983 release isn't bad, but probably should have been placed deeper into the album. Slow and unmoving, "Jennifer kills the excitement generated by "Bad Alternator.
"Arp of the Covenant Theme Song is a sci-fi movie soundtrack, starring evil robots whose every move is accompanied by the painful cry of Moogs and other organs. "Blow By is punkified King Crimson, while Depeche Mode's "Stripped loses all sense of structure for awhile, becoming thin electro-glitch. Again, moments of this tune are barely audible and, even on a good stereo and/or headphones, require a drastic turn of the volume knob. Despite this, "Stripped does turn out to be a stellar track, as ARP builds the momentum up again, with Zielinski really letting his drums loose around the keyboardist's repetitive grooveBenevento-Russo Duo certainly comes to mind here.
The band's reworking of Sigur Ros' "Untitled 1 is as thoughtful as the original, though left slightly barer than the composer's vision.
ARP of the Covenant's strong dynamic sense helps and hurts them. Slow, shallow moments sometimes lead to waning interest, but you can't fault a band for having the wherewithal to take on a track like "Untitled 1, an unheralded gem if there ever was one. This is a band worth checking out, and one capable of much more than what they expose with Arp of the Covenant.
Track Listing: Intro; Bad Alternator; Jennifer; Mister Li Poses With His American Birthday Cake; Triple Tree; Arp of the Covenant Theme Song; Blow By; Stripped; Untitled 1.
Personnel: Mark Siegenthaler: keyboards and synthesizers; Brad Townsend: bass; Nick Zielinski: drums.