Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mike Olson: Incidental

Another release from Henceforth, further undermining my characterisation of them as a jazz label: let's call it modern eclectic.

For this album by
Mike Olson, I want to do something unusual in a music review - put in a spoiler alert. When I finally got round to listening to this, I hadn't read the liner notes or PR material. It struck me as a complex ensemble work - horns, woodwind, drums, guitars, vocals, keyboards, strings - which slithered and moved around. Then I read how it had been made, and it revealed a whole new perspective - what had already impressed now amazed. Because the whole work (45 minutes) is an assemblage. Each musician was recorded separately, playing a score (verbal and graphic gestures), and Olson cut, selected, manipulated, layered and combined these pieces to form the 6 Incidental tracks. The method reminded me of John Wall, but the outcome is quite different. rather than the minimal pieces Wall works with, Olson has taken full units and combined them. It is a seamless construction and the knowledge was a little like the reformatting of the your understanding the whole that comes at the end of a movie like Sixth Sense or The Others.

And while sometimes method trumps outcome, in this case the outcome is well ahead. Olson called the music as Incidental as it reminds him of that form - 'written to reinforce visual activity ... the music sounds like action to me'. You could also say it is composed from incidents which have been brought together.

The feel is of experimental freeform jazz - there are fluttering woodwinds and some squonking brass. But there are also lovely strings - creating a foreceful opening, or orchestrated beautifully in Incidental 3 - driving drum percussion, guitar. And voices - soft, processed, laughing. Some periods remind me of Zappa, others are tonal ambience, while the fragmented origin is also heard in some passages of super-human playing. The shift between active and at times aggressive playing (4 has some NINish elements) and ambient passages is handled dexterously, and the narrative of each track reinforces the filmic element that Notes in the liner (6, for example, starts quietly, builds a rocky fusion middle before easing into an ambient final section). And like a good filmscore separated from its visual home, this is music that makes you take notice and listen - to the skill of both players and composer.

An exciting release.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Little Fyodor - Peace is boring

The resurrected &etc has, for the last few months, eschewed images. This has mainly been laziness, compendium reviews where there would be too many images, and a desire for a cleaner line. Little Fyodor demands a picture - he is a persona of Dave Lichtenberg, who has been making music for a while (thanks wikipedia), and the look is indicative of the music. This is the cover of Peace is Boring - on the website there are also many photos, and the the impression is of someone doing their best to look wacky/zany/nerdish. Anyway, this album from Public Eyesore (PE111) fits with their history of being a broad church which offers an outlet for 'outsider' art (not sure if Fyodor is, or is role playing, the outsider status)
Anyway, the music's the thing...
The album opens with a rewriting of Both sides now - Death sides now which is taken into dark places with subtle orchestration. The voice is strange - a strangled, twisted things that jumps around: perhaps Weird Al taken to another level? From here the voice is matched by the music, a hooky driving punkish rock drive, over which Fyodor's singing runs amok. The titles of songs suggests the lyrical direction: All my clothes are uncomfortable, Everybody's sick (which lists all the people/things that are sick), Cruising (bummer scene) (again with a darker tone to the music, but without obvious lyrical relationship to the title), Death wish (antiwar).

On a number of songs he is joined by Babushka (who also plays keyboards) - a cover of Open up your heart (and let the sunshine in), The god gripe song (which segues from Wonderful world to a list of things god's got wrong, such as why did you make the mosquito) and the canonical Boots. First time I listened I thought that the strangled female vocals was another Fyodor personality - but there are pictures of the Babushka on the web site and on the inner cover: but it still sounds like him to me.

The musicianship on the album is excellent - there are touches of synth and processing (in the closing sing-a-long, for example), and the band rocks out some very nice pop/rock. The songs have great hooks and it is quite a catchy album - all you have to do is accept the extreme melodramatic, strained vocals. Which can be worth it as it is really a fun album.