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Huntsville: For Flowers, Cars and Merry Wars

John Kelman By

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Jumping to the relative upstart Hubro label, Huntsville continues to mine similar territory to its sophomore Rune Grammofon release, Echoes, Arches and Eras (2009), but there are some significant changes as well. Unlike Echoes—its second disc culled from a live performance teaming the improvising trio with American guitar maverick Nels Cline and his partner in alt-country rocker Wilco, percussionist Glenn Kotche—Huntsville pares things back to essentials, going it largely alone.

Even the sole guest appearance by Hanne Hukkelbord on the 19-minute title track—delivering Navyelectre leader Jonas Howden Sjøvaag's spare lyrics in almost emotionless fashion—is more cameo than full-on participation, the singer gone almost as soon as she arrives, over a two-chord vamp driven by a robotic electronic pulse. By the time Huntsville begins to really ramp up the sonics, Ivar Grydeland is creating a bevy of distinctly non-guitar-like tonalities over Tonny Kluften's thumping, arrhythmic heartbeat of a bass line, as percussionist Ingar Zach continues to push the relentless pulse forward...until, that is, the entire trio fades out almost entirely, for a brief moment of psychedelic stasis. Throbbing feedback and otherworldly textures continue to create a persistent drone, as Kluften veers in and out with his staggered pulse, the industrial extremes slowly morphing to the sound of a metronome which, if it doesn't exactly coalesce into form, does act like a lightning rod around which the trio rallies, slowly losing the rhythm entirely and fading to black, over the course of its final minutes, with Grydeland finally contributing simple, angular lines and chords that sound as close to his instrument as he ever gets.

The 29-second "For the Working Class" is a response, perhaps, to Huntsville's debut, For the Middle Class(Rune Grammofon, 2007), a lonely tabla directly referencing the stronger Indo-centricity of its previous releases, coupled with the group's curiously roots-informed place along the free improvising continuum. This time, Huntsville largely deserts both markers, going for a more persistently electric edge, doing so without ever kowtowing to convention. "Ear/Eye Connector," at nearly 13 minutes, is the other major piece on For Flowers, an atmospheric drone that nevertheless fluctuates in tone and timbre, strangely hypnotic as it leads to another long fadeout. Grydeland's heavily overdriven and outrageously processed guitar is at the forefront of the closing "Star Spangled Pillow, Zach's tumultuous drums strangely in the weeds of the mix, even as his cymbals dominate for nearly all of its five minutes as Kluften's bass underscores—simple, but perfect.

As cofounders of Sofa—a Norwegian label of largely fearless free music—it's curious that Grydeland and Zach have chosen to keep Huntsville away from their own imprint. Equally intriguing is Hubro's decision to release this, and some of its other current titles, in vinyl only, with a CD version included but not available separately. It's a sign that the landscape is changing yet again, with experimental groups like Huntsville on the vanguard of a new kind of improvised music scene where noise may be a significant part of the landscape, but is still strangely appealing—even when played loud, as is appropriately recommended.

Track Listing: For Flowers, Cars and Merry Wars; For the Working Class; Ear/Eye Connector; Star Spangled Pillow.

Personnel: Ivar Grydeland: guitars, banjo, effects; Tonnu Kluften: bass, effects; Ingar Zach: percussion, effects; Hanne Hukkelberg: vocal (1).

Title: For Flowers, Cars And Merry Wars | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Hubro Records

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