How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The nihilistic title and imposing instrumentation on this disc might cause some on-the-fence listeners to cringe, or at the very least reach for the closest pair of earplugs. Others possessing ears familiar with the Cline brothers previous projects are likely to feel the tingle of an expectant grin cross their countenances. Four electric guitars and electric bass guitar, not to mention the drum kit of Alex Cline and the guest voices of Parkins and Peetthat’s a lot of juice feeding through the stacks and the potential is present for some serious wall-of-sound pyrotechnics. The spirit of electricity tapped and wielded by these improvisors virtually mandates fret board fireworks. From the sticky string lattice of “Spider Wisdom” to the closing flameout of “Matyr,” an elapse of nearly eighty minutes, this group tests the limits of their respective ‘axes’ and as well as their ability to balance harnessed power with measured release.
Success is shown conclusively in the creative sonorities invested in each track. Each one is a celebration of amp-driven guitar noise, with plenty of attention directed toward on devising the dirtiest, most fuzzed out tones possible. Those listeners looking for cleanly articulated single note runs are likely to have their ears boxed brutally by the pugnacious racket unleashed. Blistering scribbles alternate with segments of lyric gracefulness and while there are plenty of ear-flaying passages brimming with feedback there are also a fair number that reference quieter crannies of the group’s repertoire as on the at once brooding and hopeful “The Ringing Hand.” The effect when the ensemble of guitars is operating at full amp-rattling muster is often as if numerous radio dials and switches are collectively being tuned through a broadband range of arcane frequencies. Other oddball sounds also creep into the mix, such as the ghostly operatic voice of ‘Aunt Lily’ on “After Armenia” and Bozulich’s experiments on vocalizer during “Progression.”
“Chi Cagoan” is groove-infused at its inception, scuttling along over Mair’s deep bottom bass, but eventually immolates in a protracted onslaught of distortion-scorched discord. The start and stop stutter of “Talk of a Chocolate Bed” is beautifully unnerving, the group seeming to swerve in several different directions simultaneously. “As In Life,” a five-part suite crafted in homage to Horace Tapscott conjures fleeting aural images of Sonny Sharrock in its anthemically charged flirtations with blues and rock forms. Thoughtful to the end and for the benefit of those vexed by the prospect of discerning who’s playing what and when, Nels includes an annotated list of solos for each piece in the liners. Chalk this one up as a strong contender for most cogently executed electric improv album of 2001.
Track Listing: Spider Wisdom; Chicagoan; The Ringing Hand; Talk of a Chocolate Bed; After Armenia; Progression; As In Life; Friends of Snowman; Martyr.
Personnel: Woodward Lee Aplanalp: electric guitar; Carla Bozulich: electric guitar, sampling keyboard; Alex Cline: drumset, percussion; Nels Cline: electric guitars; Bob Mair: electric bass guitar; G.E. Stinson: electric guitars; Zeena Parkins: electric harp; Wayne Peet: Db clarinet, fake mellotron.