My favorite albums from the last quarter of 2006 — Jandek's Glasgow Monday, Tim Hecker's Harmony in Ultraviolet, Sunn O))) and Boris's Altar, The Drones' Gala Mill, Alexander Tucker's Furrowed Brow — have all used a similar technique to catch my attention. In each record, chaotic elements — drones, atonal guitar, feedback, electronically produced overtones — are corralled into rich, architectural songs. And now Between Neck & Stomach, the second full-length by Italy-based electroacoustic musician Andrea Belfi, comes along and pulls the same stunt remarkably well. Fuck, some blogger's going to hear this and swear that a new genre has arrived.
In comparison to the other albums I've mentioned, though, Belfi leaves much more room for chance. Some of his percussive tracks come from a cupboard of cookware vibrated by a one-note synthesizer drone. The real drums on "Extraevil" also sound animated by inhuman forces, sounding like a series of solos from 1960s free-jazz drummer Sunny Murray run through a shredder and hot-glued back together. And when "Sleeping with Extraevil" fizzles into an electroacoustic horror house after a few minutes of melody (melody via spliced vocal fragments and gentle guitar feedback, but still melody), it's as if Belfi acknowledges that his interest in preserving the illusion of order is extremely limited.
Like composer Ekkehard Ehler or labelmate Giuseppe Ielasi, Belfi makes these derailments count. All of these artists seem driven by the knowledge that you can set out to make a Laughing Stock and very easily end up with a ( ), that attempts at fragile beauty can quickly become overly precious aural wallpaper. In the case of "Footprints," a few dabs of pink noise prevent a mélange of vintage synths, mischievous slide guitar, sinewy bass, and syncopated percussion from drifting toward groove-oriented, Tortoise-y sleekness. Perhaps there's a problem here; maybe good composers don't have to undercut themselves to avoid sounding too polished. When Belfi's at his best, though — when Richard Youngs-ish vocals, a never-ending drum roll, electric guitar shards, and shortwave radio signals collide in "Sandglass" — the question of which sounds are working with and against one another evaporates. It's hard to imagine that song developing any other way.
Using the illogical to "enhance" the logical often becomes an overly abstract, even academic exercise — ever tried slogging through a volume of Lacan? Belfi's made all the right "wrong" choices in Between Neck & Stomach, though. Perhaps the album's element of chaos isn't supposed to offset clever arrangements — maybe it's there to draw our attention away from the innately spiritual harmony that arises when perfect and imperfect mesh so fully.
1. Sandglass2. Extraevil3. Broken Shoes4. Sleeping with Extraevil5. Her Own Desert6. Footprints