Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Jazzfinger - Wixxon Flag Bearer (DNT Records CD-R)

Another one form the vaults seeing as all my new stuff is waiting for me back at school. Nice excuse to be able to do some of these actually (I scored Carlos Giffoni's No Fun #2 yesterday... maybe I'll do that one soon!).

So this one isn't something I got a long time ago, but it certainly isn't the most recent in either the label or the band's discography. UK-based Jazzfinger have been at it for a while now, combining weird experimental drone stuff with scraping percussion, geetar, melodica, and whatever else they seem to have lying around. I've heard that the trio, made up of Hasan Gaylani, Ben Jones and Sarah Sullivan, is known for rarely doing the same thing on their recordings, and on this DNT album, they certainly do kindle their own brand of musical landscape.

Wixxon Flag Bearer opens with "Birth of the Knife," which, if you were to only hear the first two notes of, might sound something like a romantic Riviera love song. But nay, that third note is a squeaker, and it sure doesn't go away. The whole thing sounds like a weird melancholy message played between power wires--somewhere out there, someone is getting the message. "Autumn Leaf Call" follows up right where the latter left off, except it tones things down in turns of the feedback and opts for a kind of melodica/percussion duet. This ain't no Augustus Pablo though, and that certainly isn't Rashied Ali on drums either. The product is a kind of clanking, toy world with mbira (you know, that metallic African thumb piano), bowls and plates, whatever it seems is lying around. The melodica line actually is quite melodic and beautiful in parts, evoking a strange sadness throughout. Seems for them, this fills the same kind of role as Ennio Morricone's whistle--suggesting both the loneliness of solitude, but also the freedom. Just wait till that alien voice chides in, all vibrato and eerie warmth. A theremin perhaps? Don't look at me.

"Final Scene Before Cloud" again picks up the scattered pieces of the previous piece, restructures them, and embarks on its own journey. Actually, the organ line (or is it still that theremin thing? Or something else? I give up...) takes similar chord structures to the aforementioned theremin thingy and throws them up front, a pseudo-bass line for the scraping percussion and humming feedback to whirl around. "My Water" furthers the bizarre mix that this group achieves, in which you get highly recognizable, even iconic percussion sounds, overlaid by obscured, more alien sounds. The result is a strange mix that is nicely effective. It doesn't sound too weird and out there, but it certainly never rests in a comfortable space. I think this piece has an out-of-tune guitar, maybe an organ in the distant background, and plenty of amp warmth and fuzz. Weird stuff that's strangely contemplative.

"The Machine That Turned Off Mars" features more of that aimless, amateur percussion that these guys seem to love over a restful little piano diddy that might as well be the soundtrack to that kids' movie "The Snowman." You know, with the flying and the whales and the melting? The choice of decidedly lo-fi recording methods is an aesthetic that I happen to love, and the group uses it well, allowing it to highlight the unexpected high frequencies while blanketing the entire disc in strange murky cloud of heat. The fact that Jazzfinger fight back the heat with their chilly atmospheres only furthers their wonderful dynamic. "Caves" follows this beautiful mess with an epic 24 minutes of pretty much all out noise. Here, there's way too much going on for the little intricacies to pop in and out of the mix--pretty much, you just get one full on sonic blast. Yet about two-thirds of the way through a weird horn line comes in, fuzzes out, and settles, holding the clatter in place and allowing even this workout to show its (slightly) softer side. The fade out sounds like its being played in some train tunnel as steam engines whisk by the group's crude set-up.

"The Arrangement" closes the album with something like a cross between the methods used on most of hte tracks, and those used on "Caves." Denser than most of the material on the disc, the track at times reminds me of a (far) busier Graveyards, slowly grinding forward against harsh, tectonic electronics (how's that for a rhyme?). Treated chants are thrown in and out of the mix, and the whistling of objects not typically mic'd add that eerie quality they do so well. Some of it even approaches the sound of a Stockhausen piece, "Kontakte" if you will. A nicely synthesized ending to over an album's worth of expansive and beautiful material. It's some lonely geography these guys tread. Limited to 100 with spray painted CD and insert.

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