Draw Breath, the third album from guitarist Nels Cline's ironically named instrumental trio, The Nels Cline Singers, offers another superlative collection of diverse electro-acoustic improvisation.
Cline has been the subject of an unprecedented amount of press for an avant-garde musician, courtesy of his recent stint as lead guitarist for Wilco and his designation as a "Guitar God" by Rolling Stone Magazine. Deserving of the hype, Cline is one of the most versatile and essential guitarists working today, irrespective of genre or style.
Cline's long-standing trio with upright bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola continues to grow, perfecting its intuitive, collective sensibility. Covering a wide range of territory, The Singers explore everything from folksy acoustic ballads and apocalyptic doom metal to jittery free jazz and psychedelic soundscapes with conviction.
Opening with the somber, down-tempo "Caved-In Heart Blues," the trio proves it can work with subtlety and grace as easily as volume and histrionics. Investigating traditional concepts of melody and harmony, "The Angel of Angels" rides a simmering waltz, brimming with bittersweet Americana. Exceedingly lyrical, it shares similarities with the bucolic pair "Recognize I and "Recognize II," both introspective acoustic musings.
The majority of the album however, revels in punk rock intensity by knitting progressive jazz structures to raucous free improvisation.
With blistering fury, kinetic angularity and virtuosic interplay, both "Attempted" and "Confection" explode with bracing intensity and sudden dynamic shifts. "Mixed Message" expands the concept further, moving episodically from vigorous, knotty free-bop to a hushed electronic interlude before erupting in a Sonic Youth inspired torrent of pneumatic riffing.
The epic centerpiece, "Evening At Pops'," steadily ascends from an abstract quilt of shimmering electronic texture and fitful agitation to the trio's heaviest playing on record as Cline churns out a sludge metal riff that sounds like an out-take from a Melvins record.
Closing on a delicate experimental note, "Squirrel of God" features Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche. Unfolding cinematically from atmospheric musique concrète to a stirring pop climax, it conceptually brings the album full circle.
Rivaling Cline's beloved 1990s trio (with bassist Bob Mair and drummer Michael Preussner), Draw Breath reveals The Nels Cline Singers to be his most versatile and impressive ensemble to date.
Personnel: Nels Cline: electric and acoustic guitars, effects, megamouth; Devin Hoff: contrabass; Scott Amendola: drums, percussion, "live" electronics/effects; Glenn Kotche: percussion, crotales and glockenspiel (9).