Percussionist Nick Hennies’ latest album Work manages to be intriguing and enthralling in an unusual manner—its studied, persistent and soft vibraphone chords seek to pull the listener in closer using gentle persuasion, rather than force or flash. Once the bed has been prepared and the listener’s trust has been earned, then Hennies unleashes some surprises, prodding the proceedings into more chaotic territory.
The ten-minute “Settle,” the first of only two tracks, has a meditative mood, with Hennies playing simple metronomic vibraphone tones on the understated multi-track recording. Eventually, occasional flutters of notes adorn the track, and its minimalist approach—which allows it to comfortably sit alongside works by the likes of Steve Reich or Charlemagne Palestine—can clear the listener’s head in preparation.
Effectively a prologue, “Settle” leads to the similarly placid beginning of the 40-minute track “Expenditures,” with barely audible vibraphone notes, initially acting like some distant, lost satellite, beeping loyally as designed. After building and fading, gradually, Hennies is joined by the rest of his ensemble, including two contrabasses, a violin, a clarinet, a trombone and Chris Cogburn on percussion and sine waves; however, it’s not always clear what is being heard, since the clean tones of the vibraphone could be mistaken for pure sine waves.
Around the 15-minute mark, a flicker of clarinet appears, being the first sound that has a human quality to it. Soft, wispy violin strings enter the track, before long, deep contrabass notes finally fill the bass-range void. The sustained notes give way to more aggressive contrabass bowing, even reaching a grinding intensity, matched by the freer violin notes. The vibraphone hits move away from one-note monotony toward forming longer patterns, and low drums enter the picture before the whole piece disperses. It’s perhaps like the rebellious cousin of Terry Riley’s In C, and it offers ample rewards for those who are patient, at first providing a space for a clear mind before filling it up with a provocative jumble.
The second album from the Atlanta power-pop band Gold-Bears, Dalliance, is like an elastic band stretched between the past and the present, dynamically snapping back together with kinetic energy and putting that force to good use.
You see, front man Jeremy Underwood can’t quite escape the past—the opening song on Dalliance is “Yeah, Tonight,” previously heard in a largely different version (which used another set of lyrics and a sparse, atmospheric mood before a cathartic conclusion) as the final track on the excellent debut Gold-Bears album Are You Falling in Love? “Yeah, Tonight” was also a tight 80-second burst of goodness from Underwood’s previous band Plastic Mastery back in 2002.
The new version is no slouch, too, being an insistent rush of strummy momentum and lyrical outpouring, featuring girl/boy vocals with Emma Cooper (of Standard Fare) and a variety pack of drum patterns to keep listeners on their toes.
While the first Gold-Bears album has Underwood getting through a bad marriage, Dalliance channels his post-divorce anger, pushing forward with an infinite supply of fuel like kindred spirits such as Superchunk, The Thermals and The Wedding Present (whose epic build/release track “Dalliance” is the most probable source of the album title).
The album is another new start for Underwood, using a completely different lineup than the one on the debut album; welcome guests include vocalist Pam Berry (of the legendary, noise-pop band Black Tambourine) on “From Tallahassee to Gainesville,” with a fuzzed-out bliss (or blissed-out fuzz) and small details (sleigh bells, a temporary “Be My Baby” beat) to remind the listener that this is indeed a pop song.
But, what sets Dalliance apart from your typical indie-pop-rock album is its lack of complacency. Take “Death With Drums,” which doesn’t end where a typical pop song should end and keeps going with more and more hooks, ramping up the intensity, and like the rest of the album, it drags the past behind it but doesn’t let that slow it down, charging ahead with one of the most glorious half-hour blasts of sparkling indie-pop of the year.