There’s a subtle, sly, yet reverent sense of humor on the solo debut instrumental album Alone Together by Karriem Riggins, epitomized by the completely misleading cover art: a blue-tinted photo of Riggins at his drum kit, purposefully reminiscent of jazz album covers in the ‘50s on Blue Note Records. The 37-year-old Riggins is a jazz drummer, who has played with the likes of Milt Jackson, Oscar Peterson, and Donald Byrd, but Alone Together, which compiles the two vinyl albums Alone and Together released earlier this year, features the hip-hop producer/vinyl-crate-digger side of Riggins, instead.
Over the course of 34 tracks, most of which are a minute or two long, Riggins seems to be clearing out an accumulation of a boat-load of ideas, distilling his tastes down to samples from ‘60s and ‘70s records; there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the mix, other than expressing the feeling that these are his favorite bits bouncing around in his head, with an ADD-ridden, cheerfully jumpy attitude. The good thing is that almost every turn Riggins makes on Alone Together is smile-inducing, going for a sense of joy rather than flashing an ironic smirk.
There’s an abundance of funk, stuttering samples, glitchy moments, and hip-hop drum machine beats, punctuated with odd vocal or spoken snippets; “F_rd Jingle” resembles Isaac Hayes’s main theme from Shaft mixed with some ‘60s TV show theme song, confusingly ending with a piece of an a cappella song about defeating Satan. While the album cover art is misleading, the song titles generally are not; there’s the guitar riffage of “Stadium Rock,” the Brazilian flavors of “Summer Maddness S.A.,” and an abundant love of Moog synthesizers on both “Moogy Foog It” and “Voyager/5000” which ends with a sample of “One Note Samba” covered by Moog/tape-loop enthusiasts Perrey and Kingsley. Ostensibly a hip-hop album, it’s really an aural scrapbook made by a caffeinated DJ who ardently wants to cram all his favorite vinyl snippets into a set, conveying both puzzlement and delight.
Heads Full of Poison
It’s a shame that typically in the art world, to become widely recognized, an artist must have an easily summarized shtick, so that museum goers can mutter, after the moment of recognition, something like “Oh, that’s the bubble-wrap artist”―consistency is rewarded more often than diversity. On the music side of things, however, with the case of the Asheville, N.C. duo Ahleuchatistas, the group has become more varied and harder to characterize over its career, benefiting from that attitude with a personality that just gets more complex and fascinating over time. A pithy description doesn’t do the band justice, but today, listening to the new hour-long album Heads Full of Poison, it’s much harder to pigeonhole Ahleuchatistas as a math-rock or prog-rock outfit. While there are still some unmistakable key aspects, the group’s style is recognizable even as its repertoire is more mixed; there are breathtakingly complicated passages that are both rigorous and exciting, yet the precision isn’t robotic―there is absolutely a human element to the playing.
Ahleuchatistas is a mighty live band, and its album material is recorded with that in mind, featuring all drum and primary guitar parts recorded in real-time, including live loops, with occasional guitar overdubs for layering. Band founder guitarist Shane Perlowin performs on the opening track “Vanished” with a hint of north African scales and pin-prick guitar lines, and drummer Ryan Oslance is a swift monster, supplying busy drumming that is both jittery and accurate with a tremendous inherent drive. “Future Trauma” uses disquieting guitar tone loops before intruding rumbles of drums start building halfway through the track, joined by Perlowin’s rapid guitar runs. The 16-minute title track features guitar melodies with an apparent traditional Chinese influence, filtered through the group’s charged approach, with swift-river-rapids drumming with faint sleigh bell shakes and clicks among the drumbeats. It’s a lot to swallow in one sitting, and perhaps some of these tracks could stand to be absorbed individually and left to shine on their own; nevertheless, it’s a solid effort from one of the most exhilarating, unclassifiable rock bands around.