The Nels Cline Singers: Macroscope (2014)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Macroscope is a first for guitarist Nels Cline's ironically named band, The Nels Cline Singers, in more ways than one. The group's four previous albums were released by the notoriously adventurous Cryptogramophone label, so it is somewhat surprising to see the amplified power trio's latest endeavor issued by the relatively mainstream Mack Avenue imprint. More importantly, it is the first recording to feature Trevor Dunn in place of original bassist Devin Hoff, and although it is a novel detail, The Singers do actually sing this time outwordless vocalese on two compositions, but vocals nonetheless.
Despite such changes, the date follows the ensemble's prior efforts with no noticeable compromise in sound, exhibiting its boldly experimental palette in a wide variety of settings. Alternating between styles, the band often changes direction within the space of a single tune. "The Wedding Song" is representative, opening with a polyrhythmic barrage from drummer Scott Amendola and guest percussionists Cyro Baptista and Josh Jones before gracefully morphing from an infectious Latin vamp into a loping countrified gait that finds Cline's ethereal volume swells evoking the sonorous lilt of a lap steel guitar.
Cline's protean fretwork provides a sense of thematic continuity to the proceedings, no matter how dissimilar the material initially seems. "Companion Piece" builds slowly from delicate introspection to frenzied expressionism, while the brisk "Canales' Cabeza" follows a similar arc, but it's the sudden transition in "Respira" from percussive overture and angelic vocals to electrifying glissandos ebbing with reverb-laced sustain that most effectively reveals Cline's melodic gifts. The soulful laid-back groove of "Red Before Orange" further illustrates his tuneful predilections with a brief psychedelic excursion that demonstrates the lyrical economy Cline has mastered as lead guitarist of Wilco.
Serving as the eclectic record's centerpiece, the epic "Seven Zed Heaven" clocks in just over eleven minutes, escalating from angular Milesian funk to a coruscating wall of sound that subtly traces a historical line from seventies fusion to eighties no wave, buoyed by Cline's virtuosic salvos. Pushing further into vanguard territory, the brash metallic anthem "Hairy Mother" and abstract noise collage "Sascha's Book of Frogs" bring the session to a dramatic close.
Macroscope lives up to its name, juxtaposing multiple genres in an organic yet cohesive fashion. Indicative of an artist whose frequent collaborators include post-punk icons like Thurston Moore and Mike Watt as well as avant-garde jazz musicians like Tim Berne and Ben Goldberg, Cline has stated "I would like us to arrive at a point that has no boundaries, that's totally amorphous." Macroscope is one step closer toward realizing that goal.
Track Listing: Companion Piece; Canales' Cabeza; Respira; Red Before Orange; The Wedding Band; Macroscopic; Climb Down; Seven Zed Heaven; Hairy Mother; Sascha's Book of Frogs.
Personnel: Nels Cline: guitars, effects, voice, Quintronics Drum Buddy; Trevor Dunn: basses, effects; Scott Amendola: drums, percussion, electronic treatments/loops, mbira; Yuka Honda: electric piano, OP-1 (3, 4, 6); Cyro Baptista: percussion universe (3-5, 8); Josh Jones: congas, other percussion (3-5); Zeena Parkins: electric harp (7).
Record Label: Mack Avenue Records
Style: Fringes of Jazz