112

Thinking Plague: A History of Madness

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Too much texture can be a dangerous thing. Thinking Plague, nominally a sextet, picks up five extra players for parts here and there on A History Of Madness, and the end result is a multi-layered creation.

Fortunately the combination works quite well. It ends up sounding full-bodied and detailed, with plenty of understated polyrhythms to go around. All sorts of unusual instruments pop in and out, including Mike Johnson's four guitars and assemblage of miscellaneous percussion, Dave Willey's accordion and melodica, and Mark McCoin's scary combination of "sadbefré, lap-fractar, rümderfon, and 'exquisite porpenar'." But with the unifying force of Deborah Perry's insistent vocals on top, the group never gets lost.

Thinking Plague has gone through more than its share of changes since the group's eponymous debut in 1985. The thing that has always tied it together is the leadership of guitarist Mike Johnson, who contributes ten of the twelve pieces on the record, as well as the lyrics. There's no doubt he spent a lot of time thinking about what went down here, as judged by his appraisal of the record's title (referring to human history as well as family history) and its reflection in 13th century France. No, that's not a typo. He's a thinker.

These pieces flow together quite coherently, making up a full-bodied suite that tends to feel psychedelic and uneasy. That's more than reinforced by the lyrics—for example, "All my life I've been searching for the reason that my heart is broken" from "The Underground Stream." Indeed. If Curlew is testosterone-rich, then Thinking Plague is estrogenic. Vocalist Deborah Perry, the latest singer to join the group, has a relatively flat affect that suits these grey pieces perfectly. She's no virtuoso, and not particularly colorful, but that's what's called for here.

For the most part these pieces are carefully arranged, though it's hard to tell exactly where improvisation cuts in. The regular, layered pulse and openly harmonized vocals here betray prog rock roots, as does the structured compositional emphasis and architecture. But it's hard to pin down Thinking Plague, especially when it comes to what bin the record belongs in. Just as well. Mike Johnson may be deadly serious, but his music has enough layers to bypass classification.

Visit Cuneiform Records on the web.


Track Listing: Blown Apart; Consolamentum; Rapture of the Deep; G

Personnel: Mike Johnson: guitars and such; Deborah Perry: voice; Dave Willey: bass and accordions; David Shamrock: drums & percussion; Mark Harris: saxophones, clarinet, flute; Matt Mitchell: piano, harmonium, synths. Guests: Ken McLagan; Jean Harrison; Ron Miles; David Kerman; Leslie Jordan; Mark McCoin.

Title: A History of Madness | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Whispers on the Wind CD/LP/Track Review Whispers on the Wind
by Jack Bowers
Published: October 23, 2017
Read Shropshire Lads: Songs to the Poems of AE Housman CD/LP/Track Review Shropshire Lads: Songs to the Poems of AE Housman
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: October 23, 2017
Read Heptagon CD/LP/Track Review Heptagon
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 23, 2017
Read ON Tour CD/LP/Track Review ON Tour
by John Kelman
Published: October 22, 2017
Read On a Distant Shore CD/LP/Track Review On a Distant Shore
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: October 22, 2017
Read Friends & Heroes: Guitar Duets CD/LP/Track Review Friends & Heroes: Guitar Duets
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 22, 2017
Read "Metal Na Madeira" CD/LP/Track Review Metal Na Madeira
by Jim Trageser
Published: January 6, 2017
Read "Albert Mangelsdorff And His Friends" CD/LP/Track Review Albert Mangelsdorff And His Friends
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 16, 2017
Read "Pastures" CD/LP/Track Review Pastures
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: October 26, 2016
Read "The Truth" CD/LP/Track Review The Truth
by Geno Thackara
Published: September 17, 2017
Read "Ballet: The Music Of Michael Gibbs" CD/LP/Track Review Ballet: The Music Of Michael Gibbs
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: May 27, 2017
Read "Jersey" CD/LP/Track Review Jersey
by Geno Thackara
Published: September 22, 2017

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY IT!  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.