Obsessiveness can be downright alienating. One critic said of Norman McLaren, a Canadian animator whose films often consisted of little more than undulating black lines and groups of dots, that in his final ascent to new heights in pure abstraction, he managed to leave most of his audience back at the base camp. The same could be said of Greg Davis. Though Somnia documents only one of his musical fixations, it’s one many will have a tough time getting into.
Each of the six tracks on Somnia consists of one instrument played by Davis (and the “playing” is often so minimal that you might suspect he was able to make it hum or drone just by looking at it) and filtered through a computer. Guitar, organ, harmonica, Fender Rhodes, bowed psaltery—by stretching out their signals, Davis discovers new rhythms and sine waves encoded in, say, a single protracted note. The haunting whistles and wails of “Mirages (version 2)” were produced using an old punch-card music box, the same basic technology behind the player piano.
On paper, Somnia reveals an intriguing and innovative process. As for Somnia the album, you just have to be in the proper frame of mind for it—the same frame of mind you’d need for watching a glacier move. One imagines that knitting, cross-stitch and macramé are all acceptable activities at Davis’ live performances. (Andy Smetanka)
Greg Davis performs with Ariel Pink and Signer at 9 PM on Monday, Nov. 8, at the Roxy Theater.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti 2: The Doldrums
Have you ever had a cassette tape that was worn so thin that you could hear the other side bleeding through on the side you were playing? That’s what the one-man Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti is all about. Los Angeles woodshedder Pink records on an eight-track using bass, guitar, keyboards and vocals, constructing all his own beats from vocal samples. For every three more or less straightforward elements in the mix, there always seems to be one or two that don’t quite fit, something weird and backward chucked in there to keep you on your toes.
Pink whoops and shrieks in a weird falsetto, but nothing stands out on The Doldrums as prominently as the ultra low-fi recording, which serves as its own kind of instrument. The melodies are somewhat familiar, like vague recollections of ’70s TV jingles, but the recording sounds like it’s been soaking in brine for 30 years. This actually complements the music, making it sound more familiar and worn out from repeated listens than it actually is. Pink sounds a little too self-consciously “outsider” to classify as a true frontiersman in the Jandek or Daniel Johnston sense, but he’s genuinely enthusiastic, too. Listening to friends’ home recordings can be wearisome, but there’s enough earnest weirdness on The Doldrums to deliver listeners—and reviewers—from the obligation of just being polite. (Andy Smetanka)
Ariel Pink performs with Greg Davis and Signer at the Roxy on Monday, Nov. 8, at 9 PM.
I can’t make up my mind. On one hand, I find conservatory attitudes concerning the “purity” of certain genres repugnant because going back to the “old ways” is rarely a viable solution for anything, especially with music. On the other hand, I’ve just about reached the end of my patience with being expected to revere certain recordings as innovative fusions just because a press agent drops a few magic words into a press release.
Never mind my personal contention that thoroughly hybridized and deracinated bluegrass could disappear from the face of the earth and we’d hardly be the poorer for it; Jake Armerding’s father was a bluegrass mandolinist and, even growing up in Massachussetts, a little of it supposedly rubbed off on his son’s music. Fine, let’s hear it, then. His press materials make it sound like a hereditary condition, almost a curse, but listening to Jake Armerding I’m all, like, Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire: Show me the bluegrass, man. Am I missing something?
Jake Armerding is a pleasant-enough record, with pleasant-enough songs and Armerding’s pleasant-enough feathery tenor. Pleasantness is this album’s salient personality trait; it sounds like a cross between halfway-decent modern country minus the ubiquitous weeping lap steel and ’80s AM easy-listening along the lines of Christopher Cross, only with better lyrics. It’s nice enough, so why not just leave it at that instead of disingenuously invoking the b-word just because the guy plays the mandolin? (Andy Smetanka)
Jake Armerding performs Friday, Nov. 5, at 8 PM at the Crystal Theatre.
Alison Brown Quartet
Replay was released in 2002, but since the session’s intent was to capture the banjo/piano/ bass/drums quartet’s live sound, it’s still fair game. And while no live show will convey the over-equalized studio balance of Replay, you get the idea: a heavy shot of bluegrass (inevitable, given the banjo) injected into jazz arrangements (no vocals, piano from John R. Burr that threatens to outshine bandleader Brown’s intricate picking).
The setup is something new, and Brown is a whiz on the five-string (and occasionally guitar); even so, there’s a bit too much tastefully jazzy NPR fodder to call the disc truly raucous, fast as the playing is, and any banjo-led band that forgoes raucousness is surely missing an opportunity.
But what the recording mutes in tone it more than makes up for in breadth, hopping nimbly from bebop to neo-Celticisms. Brown, formerly Alison Krauss’ banjoist, had six previous albums’ worth of material to draw from in assembling Replay, which places her somewhere in the spectrum between Krauss-style bluegrass (without the voice) and Bela Fleck’s banjo-style jazz (without all the loosey-goosey weirdness), though neither is a good audio reference for Brown’s sound. By now, Brown may have moved well beyond those boundaries anyway. She’s clearly got the talent, and the band, to play anything she can think of. (Brad Tyer)
The Alison Brown Quartet plays Friday, Nov. 5, at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish, and Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Hamilton Performing Arts Center in Hamilton. Both shows are at 8 PM.