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The Science Group: Spoors (2004)

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The Science Group: Spoors No stars How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Being part of a real-life science group myself, I can appreciate where this band is coming from. My day job as a molecular biologist consists of picking up questions and trying to find answers, with a certain amount of head-bashing and plenty of unpredictable stabs in the dark. This particular collection of musical experimenters returns with its second record, Spoors, after many changes in orientation and personnel (most notably the loss of a vocal element). The current Science Group includes composer/keyboard player Steven Kovacs Tickmayer, bassist Bob Drake, drummer Chris Cutler, and guitarist Mike Johnson. It's a solid, intuitively connected quartet.

It's hard to discern exactly how these pieces are put together, but they are clearly assembled according to some (relatively predetermined) master plan. That would be the so-called "modern classical" element of the record. The details are Tickmayer's business, but the sheer and unrelenting recklessness of the music works for exactly that reason. It's a postmodern love-fest, full of weird harpsichord-like themes, bells, samples, and outer space noises—blown up repeatedly by rock-hard grooves, intense drill-n-bass patterns, detours into swing and calypso, and so on. (Most often it resembles prog-rockers like King Crimson, but that's a vast simplification.) Regular beats often, but dark atmospheres just as well.

Such an approach is, like molecular biology, usually a recipe for failure. Science is, after all, all about the unknown. But in all honesty this particular attempt is an utter and complete success. You have to be willing to follow jump cuts through ten genres in one piece, accept brief periods of unabashed noise, and see what weird sounds these players can make out of their gear. The four suites here (representing 15 individual tracks) don't have a great deal of obvious coherence, but much of the message lies between the lines. The changes are not at all random, and the connections between them are often surprisingly enlightening.

It's hard to recommend such a frantic, open-ended record to just anyone. The music begs constant attention, continually surprises, and insists on regular irony. But take the plunge, check out the unknown, and you might just float. This is really cool stuff.

Track Listing: Timelines: Timeline 6; Timeline 2; Timeline 5. New Indents: Slopes and Blind Alleys; Dispersants; Dance of the Arguments; Interrupted Thoughts; The Rejects. 2 Bagatelles: Marching Off; Slow Land. Old and New Paths: 11. Discrete Networks; Niska Banja; Tractate; The Garden of Forking Paths; Urban Music. Total playing time: 54:07.

Personnel: Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer: keyboards & sampler; Bob Drake: bass, occasional guitar & organ; Chris Cutler: drums & electrified kit; Mike Johnson: guitars.

Record Label: ReR Megacorp

Style: Beyond Jazz


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