Composer/accordionist Ted Reichman is an integral part of the New York musical community, whether he's leading the Ted Reichman Emigré Band or playing as sideman in John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet. For My Ears Are Bent, Reichman takes the accordion right out of the picture. Instead, he employs pump organ, percussion, bass, guitar and piano (plenty of piano) to create a set of austere, anxious pieces that are more instrumental mood-rock than outright improv.
Reichman is accompanied by electric guitarist Mary Halvorson (on some of the tracks) and drummer John Hollenbeck (whose playing is more prominent and whose contributions to the recording are substantial). The opener, "Every Man to His Taste, feels like a sweetly prayerful invocation as Reichman's piano repeats a mantra-like melodic phrase, his pipe organ humming alongside as Hollenbeck's unerring snare gently drives the band forward. This is rock music, pure and simple. Its layering of a repeated musical phrase and Halverson's gloriously untechnical guitar lines very much bring to mind the intelligent pop optimism of the long-disbanded Feelies or the still-vital Yo La Tengoalthough Hollenbeck's crisp, perfect time will never be mistaken for that of Yo La Tengo drummer Georgia Hubley.
"Every Man to His Own Taste, however, is something of a red herring, because in its wake, the album gets very dark. What follows are essentially piano/percussion duets whose anxious, minor-key piano melodies, layered, clanking percussion and close, wet ambience make for some unsettling listening. An examination of the song titles ("Nun, "It Is Almost Sacred, "Come to Jesus, "Peace Father ) and an even-casual hearing of their creepy, spookhouse piano ostinati make it difficult to avoid the conclusion that Reichman is taking a decidedly stark and ungauzy look back at an unpleasantly old-school Catholic upbringing.
"Come to Jesus shares the same descending melody as "Peace Father, and to some extent, they're different sides of the same haunted-attic environment. "I Know Nothing About It follows dissonant, panic-attack pianos with a tempo-less middle section of chiming percussion, subdued electric guitar skronk (brittle and grinding, but quiet) and droning organ, before a final in-tempo section where Hollenbeck's explosive kick and snare become downright dub-inflected. It's very good, and more cohesive than the above description would suggest.
The title track that ends the disc breaks the tension, at least partiallylike "Every Man to His Own Taste, it's a slow-layered alt-rock tune that repeats and builds a simple melodic phrase over Hollenbeck's flawless kit work. It's just a shade short of anthemic, yet even the sighing vocal "ooooohs that join in during the last two minutes can't quite dispel the thorniness of the preceding pieces. You won't hear another recording like My Ears Are Bent. It's not quite the Brooklyn improv scene's version of The Wall, but in its unflinchingly anti-nostalgic and claustrophobic mood, it's close.
Track Listing: Every Man To His Taste; Peace Father; I Know Nothing About It; Nun; It Is Almost Sacred; Come to Jesus; My Ears Are Bent.
Personnel: Ted Reichman: piano, electronics, guitar, bass, percussion, pump organ; Mary Halvorson: electric guitar; John Hollenbeck: drums.