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If NYC guitarist and banjoist Brandon Seabrook was paid by the note, he’d be a billionaire. Seabrook is known for his manic, machine-gun-with-endless-ammo playing style that brings to mind some unholy union of speed metal, Dick Dale’s version of “Miserlou” and “Flight of the Bumblebee,” with a total devotion to discordance a la The Diagram Brothers.
It’s almost as if his compositions are written simply as a channel for this huge amount of energy that already exists and must be expended.
Seabrook’s new solo album Sylphid Vitalizers, available on vinyl and as a digital download, screams from the start with “Ballad of Newfangled Vicissitudes,” with a barrage of notes and an unrepentantly artificial drum machine; things quickly turn from frantic to eerie, with Seabrook playing his banjo with a bow seemingly made from a bundle of nerves, and an askew bluegrass banjo pattern emerges like a furious swarm of bees.
“Selfodomized Poltergeists” uses guitar slashes and industrial screeches and squeaks and features some full-on shredding; Seabrook will lock into a pattern and then mix it up before the listener gets too familiar with it, with piercing, spark-spitting, metal-on-metal contact and machinery slams.
“Mucoidal Woolgathering” is the aural equivalent of a hailstorm, with a banjo frenzy of key-less patterns, selected for an abrasive effect, and delirious violin-like bowing with ominous background tones.
A little relief from the constant sonic assault arrives on “Cabeza Spasms & Aural Championships,” which begins like a jackhammer with a permanently engaged clutch; however, the power seems to drop out, leaving some wailing notes and then an abundance of space between the non-obvious pitch-shifted chords. Not for the faint-of-heart, Seabrook’s superb, demented solo album is invigorating and punishing, with the sound of millions of pieces of shrapnel violently tearing through a sonic fabric.
Noura Mint Seymali
Mauritanian singer and musician Noura Mint Seymali comes from a legendary musical family, drawing from Moorish music and updating it with a rock fusion along the lines of western African Saharan desert guitar rock.
On her latest album Tzenni (“to spin”), which takes its name from a whirling dance, Seymali lays out a charged, personalized approach that pairs her bustling ardine (a 9-string harp played only by women) playing with psychedelic guitar lines from her husband, Jeiche Ould Chighaly.
While technically a harp, the ardine doesn’t sound like the sweeping dream-inducing instrument one might think it would sound like, sounding more like a lute here, with quick, energetic and tense plucks. Chighaly uses a slow phaser effect on his electric guitar, with incredibly fluid playing that’s in line with Saharan rock contemporaries.
While Seymali cites certain western-world blues and rock influences for the group, including Etta James and Jimi Hendrix, plus Indian classical and Jamaican inspiration, those elements don’t often manifest themselves in obvious ways; if anything, the drum kit beat patterns are perhaps the most “normal” rock-sounding parts of the album.
The propulsive bass lines drift between joining in with the melodic threads and melding with the drums, and actually, this writer was expecting the rhythms to be a little more complex and interesting, apart from the appealing funk leanings.
As a singer, Seymali projects fiercely, practically shoving her notes out without shouting and conveying an ardent attitude. More variation on the album would have been welcome, as the songs become less distinctive toward the second half.
What’s most entrancing at play on Tzenni is the fascinating interplay between Seymali’s ardine playing (which unfortunately is too low in the mix) and her husband’s smooth and soaring phaser-guitar melodies, enhanced by Seymali’s uniquely passionate voice.