March 22, 2012

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Man Forever

“Pansophical Cataract”

(Thrill Jockey)

The new album “Pansophical Cataract” from Man Forever, the project of kid Millions (a.k.a. John Colpitts), best known as the drummer/founder of the Brooklyn group Oneida, was actually inspired by witnessing a performance of Lou Reed’s infamous “Metal Machine Music”—originally a double-album of extreme guitar noise, often considered unlistenable for most of the human population—that was arranged for a classical string ensemble by Ulrich Krieger. Man Forever is not trying to reproduce that album, but it certainly is trying to capture the immersive, visceral and enveloping aspects of that album with a massive, abstract sonic tsunami.

Primarily, “Pansophical Cataract” uses tuned drums that beat constantly with quick hits or tight rolls, building tension gradually with a relentless momentum, and these layers of drum waves are enhanced with electric instruments—reminiscent of no-wave tones or skronks. One point of comparison would be minimalist composer Steve Reich’s “Drumming,” which explores drum patterns that gradually go in and out of phase. However, the Man Forever approach is not about a metronomic performance with the precise poly-rhythmic subtleties of Reich’s piece, although phasing effects are heard within Man Forever’s thick sonic cloud.

The album is comprised of two 18-minute tracks, and the first piece, “Surface Patterns,” takes its time to unfurl, adding low frequencies to the mix at three-minute intervals during its first half. The second piece, “Ur Eternity,” has a similarly propulsive, patiently building structure, with frantic rolls entering the picture after the 8-minute mark, leading to chaotic conclusions.

The album should be heard at a loud volume, and actually, these pieces are probably best heard by a live ensemble for the full immersive surround-sound effect. Both tracks have satisfying payoffs, with glorious and complicated maelstroms of beats and menacing tones, although they perhaps take too much time to get to their endpoints. In this case, the destination is more interesting than the journey.

The New Songs

“A Nest at the Junction of Paths”


The notion of a “song” means various things depending on whom you ask, and at a very basic level, it can be stripped down to simply lyrics, a top-line melody and chord changes—just the essentials, found in musicians’ “fake books” of standards. For the European quartet The New Songs, on its debut album “A Nest at the Junction of Paths,” the ensemble presents not only new compositions but also radical interpretations of the songs, as if they were evolving, organic beings rather than strictly defined, unchanging pieces. With mostly acoustic instruments, there’s a gentle, pastoral feeling to the album, although there’s an undercurrent of a fiercely experimental, unfettered spirit.

The two songwriters of the group are Ethiopian-born singer Sofia Jernberg—currently a Scandinavian resident with backgrounds in jazz and modern classical—and French pianist Eve Risser, who teeter-totters between improvisation and composition with exploratory tendencies. Jernberg and Risser are joined by Swedish guitarist David Stackenäs and Norwegian guitarist/zitherist Kim Myhr, who are focused on improvisatory aspects and provide many of the most unexpected sounds on the album.

With six songs that range from six to 10 minutes in length, there’s a relaxed attitude with plenty of space with seemingly measured responses between instrumental interactions, although at times there are moments of tight rhythmic synchronization between Jernberg’s clear, pretty voice and Risser’s effervescent piano runs. “Fil 1,” with a tender storm of odd strums, prepared piano notes and unusual vocalizations, was inspired by a Chriss Desroziers sculpture. “The Hill”—with e-bow tones and otherworldly squeak-buzz string intonations—features lyrics inspired by South African poet Mongane Wally Serote, and Jernberg stretches out each syllable so that the track has a calm, deliberate pace, singing words that seemingly allude to the struggle of the Black community and an end to a dusk. This debut album is a tranquil yet curious take on modern song forms, putting a charming face on a radical gray area between composition and improvisation.


March 22, 2012

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