When the fifth track from this collaboration between Sandy Ewen, Damon Smith, and Weasel Walter started playing in the living room, my four-year-old daughter asked a fairly reasonable question: “Do you think that sounds like a saw that’s run out of oil?”
Yes, Penny; I suppose it does.
My father, riding in my car while said album was playing, asked another, less reasonable question: “What is the point of this music?” (And you should know, he wasn’t asking this in a sarcastic or dismissive way; he’s an open-minded dude who used to ask me to dub him tapes of old Crowbar CDs.)
My answer to that? “Well, Dad, the point is to ‘see where the party takes them,’ only replacing ‘party’ with ‘music.’ ”
All outsider thoughts aside, Walter, Ewen, and Smith, through this untitled CD, create audio science projects that attempt to answer questions that haven’t even been asked yet. And, as is likely the case with extremely forward-thinking biology theories, the results are a lot less easy to swallow than those hypotheses that merely expand on ideas long since proven to be true. At times, the music imitates skin being ripped to shreds by sharp gravel; at others, the story is told through random clicks and pops that channel long-forgotten tribal languages. All the way through, however, is the quality and consistent shifting redolent of only the cream of the improv-den crop.
Walter’s drumming needs no introduction here, but for the uninitiated, expect to expect the unexpectedly unexpected. He tips and taps like an infant slapping kiddie spoons and forks on a tiny tabletop, clicks and clacks like the Tappet brothers, and works his toms over like a prize fighter getting the best of an old bag, jabbing, stabbing, and rabbit-punching. Does his kit contain a snare? Barely, or at least it’s obvious he finds thwapping his snare at a regular clip to be anathema to his aims.
Ewen is tougher for me to pin down, because a lot of the time I’m not sure which sounds are being drawn from her guitar — like poison from a wound — and which aren’t; then you’ve got Mr. Smith going to Washington aboard a bevy of vehicles, from 7-string electric to upright bass to field recordings to laptop. In any event, and regardless of whom is playing what, both are right at home in the palm of Walter’s overactive hands. They follow his lead seamlessly, anticipating the brief buildups and accenting the firecracker climaxes that often emerge from ’round the corner like that hairy, beastly motherfucker from Mulholland Drive, and Ewen’s string work in particular, at times, doesn’t register as authentically emanating from a guitar, one of the biggest compliments an axewoman can receive. (My research tells me she tends to employ bows, chalk, and screws during performances, if that helps).
Prickliest might be the sixth untitled track, rife with divebombing stand-up bass, Ewen’s crackling string abuse, and perhaps the most economical Walter assault, all spread out over 17-plus minutes of tangential skronk best left to the experts. Sign me up.