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Critters Buggin': Stampede

John Kelman By

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Critters Buggin', the hardcore Seattle-based quartet featuring percussionist Mike Dillon and reedman/multi-instrumentalist Skerik (last heard together on Garage a Trois' '03 release Emphasizer ), along with drummer/multi-instrumentalist Matt Chamberlain and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Brad Houser, were last seen five years ago on Amoeba , an album of loose grooves, ambient sounds and wild moments of risk. With their latest record, Stampede , little has changed, or hasn't it?

Well, there's no question that the group has come up with a vibrant new recording that blends hypnotic rhythms, strange aural landscapes and, at times, pretty outrageous noise. With sampled sounds and sound processing aplenty, Stampede fits somewhere in the area of electronica, but it's a more adventurous affair than you are likely to hear from most. And on an album that expands the sonic layers of the core group with guest appearances by Bachir and Mustapha Attar from Master Musicians of Jajouka, along with Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard and producer/multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion, there are more than a few surprises. Take "Persephone Under Mars," which features overdubs of, at times, sixty violins and violas, arrangement courtesy of Eyvind Kang, best known for his work with Bill Frisell, John Zorn and Beck.

"Hojo" opens the album with a transient rhythm from Chamberlain and some spacious keyboard work, but before things get too comfortable, Skerik's saxophone enters, with an approach that combines control with the occasional moment of abandon. While the funk of the tune is unassailable, things build into a chaotic cacophony before settling down again. "Panang" features a variety of tuned percussion instruments and an almost Steve Reich-esque sense of minimalism, over which Chamberlain and Houser develop another sumptuous groove, with Skerik building a rhythmically-disjointed theme that alternates with a more lyrical passage featuring Kang tracking layers of strings.

The beauty of what Critters Buggin' do is that while there is some semblance of song structure that reveals itself best after multiple listens, there is also a sense of surprise that remains even after those repeated spins. As out there as the textures can become, and as experimental and unrestrained as Skerik's playing often is, there is a clear pop sensibility about what these players do. "Cloudburst" revolves around a simple thematic and rhythmic premise, more a jumping-off point for Dillon's vibraphone and other percussion, but there always seems to be a hook, something for the listener to grab onto. "Sisa Boto" starts with a funky groove and just the slightest bit off-kilter horn line, but gradually builds into something more foreboding and intense.

Stampede 's style, like everything that Critters Buggin' have done, is difficult to categorize. There are hints of everything from house music to trance to a thick jungle sound that is clearly rooted in Miles Davis' '70s work, but in the hands of Chamberlain, Houser, Dillon and Skerik, the blend is something altogether unique: a sound that combines a songwriting sensibility with the looseness of the jam band and the otherworldly textures of electronica.

Visit Critters Buggin' on the web.


Track Listing: Hojo; Panang; Cloudburst; Sisa Boto; Persephone on Mars; We are New People; Toad Garden; Punk Rock Guilt; Nasty Gnostic; Dorothy; Open the Door of Peace

Personnel: Matt Chamberlain (drums, other unspecified instruments), Mike Dillon (percussion), Brad Houser (bass, other unspecified instruments), Skerik (keyboards, saxophones, effects), various guest appearances including Bachir and Mustapha Attar, Jon Brion, Stone Gossard, Eyvind Kang

Title: Stampede | Year Released: 2004


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