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Bark!: Contraption (2007)

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Bark!: Contraption How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Recorded in 2004, this is only the second album from Bark! even though they have been around since 1991 [Their first album was Swing (Matchless, 1999)]. Guitarist Rex Casswell used to be in Stock, Hausen & Walkman, and there are plenty of points on this album that echo SH&W's absurdist humor. The guitar is not deployed to produce recognizable guitar sounds, but more as a source of electronic sounds that are frequently indistinguishable from Paul Obermeyer's sound samples.

Sometimes the hints of humor are triggered by surreal samples from Obermeyer (who is also, rather incestuously, a member of Psi stablemates Furt). "Gyre" is particularly noteworthy for encompassing a range of suggestive sounds. None are specifically identifiable, but many could pass as sound effects from a Looney Tunes cartoon, giving the piece its own distinctive sense of drama. There is a reason that Bark! ends with that exclamation mark.

The trio is completed by Phillip Marks, whose percussion work shapes everything and holds it together. His drumming drives the music along and gives it its pulse—enough indeed for the Psi publicity to describe it as "James Brown meets the spirit of Modernism!," not a phrase often attributed to improvised music. On "Below Zero," Marks is particularly prominent, combining with low frequency electric pulses to produce a complex but compelling rhythm pattern. Even on a track such as "Mr Pointy," where Casswell and Obermeyer combine to produce a maelstrom of sound, Marks gives the piece real momentum.

The musical conversation between the three players is intense and highly concentrated. The end result has an architectural sense of structure to it as well as being great fun to listen to.

Track Listing: Polaris; It's A Life; Gyre; Snout; The Diver; Below Zero; Spanners; Mr Pointy; Decompression.

Personnel: Rex Casswell: electric guitar; Phillip Marks: percussion; Paul Obermayer: sampler.

Record Label: Psi


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