Book of Maps
Exorbitant technical trickery in the wrong hands can kill an album deader than James Frey’s nonfiction career. But in the case of Book of Maps’ sophomore release II, the mathy compositions don’t feel deceitfully contrived or technically insular even as the band crafts melodies around time signatures that stop and start like pendulums shifting their swings. In fact, despite the fancy configurations, II is a deliciously unsweetened rock album through and through, with heavy drum work and lots of good old-fashioned gratuitous guitar solos.
There’s an undeniable Fugazi quality to former Missoulian Christopher Baumann’s vocals—a spewing crispness that sounds growling and angry but also alluringly coy. Though his tone is emotionally authentic, the singing style is tempered with progressive instrumentation so that it fits just right into the oddball cadences. Highlights include “Bastards of the Universe,” which has Baumann screaming “You really wanna suck my blood tonight? Why you wanna kill me?” entwined with creepy metal riffs. Another, “Bathing Is Just So Conformist,” provides a glimpse into what it might be like if a classy jazz trio suddenly got possessed by the spirits of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Such hypotheticals may sound ridiculous, but II proves that combining badass attitude with intelligent structure isn’t just a wishful fiction. (Erika Fredrickson)
Book of Maps plays Friday, March 17, at The Raven Cafe. Belt of Vapors and Sky Pilots open. $5.
Egg, the newest ambient/dance release from Boulder, Colo.-based Zilla, is a perfect example of an album flaunting exceptional musicianship in the most boring way possible. Yes, they boast an award-winning hammered dulcimer player in Jamie Janover and the percussive backing of Michael Travis from ever-popular jam band String Cheese Incident. And yes, with their long list of instrumental gadgets—including mini-sitar, tongue drum and water (water?)—they are able to combine the unfragmented glaze of digitized electronica with the light thumping of an even-keeled drum circle.
But why, oh why, does this sound like music for a “Star Trek” dance party, or the newest option on a sound machine for troubled sleepers? Likable titles like “Exalted Earthworm” and “Marz vs. Sven” give the illusion that the album contains a certain amount of tension, or an interesting emotional arc. Instead the instrumentation is layered and repetitive, with an overproduced tone seemingly devoid of human error.
Zilla’s members apparently improvise all their live shows, an impressive approach that lends credence to their vast technical and creative capabilities and offers hope for their upcoming date in Missoula. But for the album listener, Egg is, at best, ambient noise for a hazy lava-lamp gathering. (Erika Fredrickson)
Zilla plays The Other Side Monday, March 20, at 10 PM. $7/$9 for under 21. Go Go Jungle opens.
Life Under the Big Sky
Life Under the Big Sky plays like the soundtrack to one of the state’s “Visit Montana” sales pitches—squeaky-clean musicianship, clichéd imagery and feel-good melodies accessible to the whole family. David Walburn’s brand of country and folk—described in his press material as “music that creates theater of the mind”—leaves no bureau of tourism touchstone unturned: he covers fishing (“Goin’ Fishing”), mountains (“Shining Mountains”), Glacier National Park (“Going to the Sun”), American Indians (“When the Land Belonged to God”) and plenty of back-slappin’ good fun (“Montana Time” and “Sweet Montana Home”).
In fact, the Kalispell resident is so tripping balls on Montana happy pills that by the 10th track, just when a listener figures he’s run out of gush, Walburn offers up “Meat’s in the Freezer (Let’s Go Skiing).” If nothing else, the man is thorough—knocking out two local pastimes in just one title—and when he sings “We’re living the good life here in paradise/ We’re on vacation every day” a local can almost get swept up in Walburn’s unrestrainedly positive vibes. Almost. (Skylar Browning)
David Walburn plays Sean Kelly’s Wednesday, March 22, at 9 PM. $2.
Even Odd Bird
Taarka’s self-described “seismic gypsy hypno-jazz” is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to summing up the band’s trove of weeping violins, sizzling castanets, enticing bass lines and catchy melody loops. The beauty of instrumental music is that it has the potential to spark an array of personal associations simply because it’s free of vocal story line. Done poorly, an instrumental album is superficially pretty or emotionally inaccessible to anyone but its creator.
This Portland, Ore., quartet, led by violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller and her husband, mandolin player David Tiller, has released a wild ride of provocative tunes without a whisper of a word. “Kudzu” sounds at times like a gypsy traveling party and at other moments like the intriguing intro to a BBC Poirot mystery. “Dance for Impeachment” sculpts a dramatic tension between snake-like castanets and mournful strings. Most imaginative is “Tants of Toyt,” which appears to breed bluegrass with Balkan compositions and what sounds like a hint of Cuban dance music.
Taarka shows that instrumental music isn’t just about technique. Even Odd Bird has the depth to transport the listener to extraordinary landscapes, without the heavy-handed showcasing. (Erika Fredrickson)
Taarka plays The Other Side Saturday, March 18, at 10 PM. $5.