Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura
Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura
To paraphrase an excerpt from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, desperate soldiers with their backs against the wall will lose their sense of fear and fight with everything they have. That bit came to mind when listening to the intense, unrelenting onslaught on the new album from the Philadelphia/NYC trio Many Arms and Japanese musician Toshimaru Nakamura.
The guitar/bass/drum unit Many Arms has built a reputation for its fearsome, noisy free-jazz-rock excursions, mingling with both the downtown NYC avant-jazz crowd—its last two albums were on John Zorn’s Tzadik label—and more rock-centric adventurers from across the nation and beyond. Nakamura’s instrument of choice is an unconventional one—the “no-input mixing board,” which has its output connected directly to its input, creating a feedback signal that is manipulated.
The album is divided into four lengthy tracks, each forging ahead into a different direction with a distinct approach, from the opening 11-minute blitzkrieg to the slowly boiling “II,” which pounds with metal flashes; Nakamura’s feedback tones work its dark magic on several different levels, causing bewilderment and also possibly nausea, with high-frequency squeals.
The prevailing attitude on the album is an ensemble-minded one, with perhaps 90 percent synthesis and 10 percent of a more individualized articulation. The album isn’t simply a monolithic wall of disorder, and the mixing balance allows the listener to adequately hear enough detail for each player among the thorny, scratchy aural flailing; that said, this writer wishes were there a few more moments where each player could break free from the pack temporarily, like on “IV,” where bassist Johnny DeBlase’s quick runs manage to resemble a nimble elephant dancing on pointed toes.
That closing number is the album’s most fascinating track, with smoldering electronics that fester and buzz among a nest of glitches and sparks; the ensemble’s method seems to be of a man buried alive in a coffin who becomes more frantic as he tries to bust out, turning into an unfettered ruckus. Like Nakamura’s menacing feedback—a cobra eating its own tail—the track envelops the listener like some sonic, creeping mutant kudzu growth.
All Are Saved
Throughout his career, the music of Michigan multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter/bandleader Fred Thomas has had to bear numerous comparisons—which in general are fair—to the work of figures such as Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Jonathan Richman and even Lee Perry and the Upsetters.
With his new solo album, All Are Saved, this writer—who has followed Thomas’ prolific career obsessively—can say that it sounds like a true culmination of his musical experiences: a Fred Thomas album, and not a “’60s girl-group pop” album or a “neo-Neil Young” album or whatever. Best known as the front man of the pop-oriented Saturday Looks Good to Me, Thomas has released a number of solo albums along the way, several of which are low-fidelity affairs with songs that sound like unpolished demos without being half-baked sketches. All Are Saved has a richness very different from those albums, and it seems to have a liberated feeling to it, being free from expectations, resulting in his finest solo album yet.
Thomas builds upon what he has learned for the deeply personal All Are Saved, which has an emotional anchor weighing on the death of a beloved dog; “Unfading Flower” uses a sample loop that could’ve been from his duo City Center, and the wordy gushes of the detail-oriented “Bed Bugs” brings to mind the free-flowing lyrics of “When the Party Ends” by Saturday Looks Good to Me.
While each song sports its own recording method and arrangement—primarily a strum/sing approach with flourishes of brass, electronics and whatever strikes his fancy—several things tie the album together: Thomas’ driven singing with conviction, the carved and crafted word streams crammed into small spaces and the attitude and mood that are more prominent than any notion of genre or nostalgia.
Every time this writer has listened to All Are Saved, he likes it twice as much as the previous time, with Thomas’ flowering concoction bearing his personal, heart-on-its-sleeve style with an ear for smart, stimulating arrangements.