Damsel Distressed

[Temporary Residence; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: free hyperactive speed improv
Others: Hella, Wilco, Flaherty/Corsano

What were you doing the night of the 2004 U.S. Presidental Elections? Were you hoping Kerry wouldn’t concede before you woke up in the morning? Maybe you were shooting guns in the air? At the television? Nels Cline and Zach Hill were coincidentally both in Chicago and as glum as anyone else. Filled with tension following the next morning’s nail-in-the-coffin announcement, Cline, Hill, Jonathan Hischke, and Matt Zivich met in the studio to beat the shit out of their instruments.

Things start a little unbalanced. Somewhere between a bull in a china shop and a tepid group not knowing how to improvise with such a presence, Hill’s drumming is an overly dominant force during the opener, “Enduring Freedom.” Yes, just hearing Zach Hill freely improvising is pretty damn cool; however, the thought of his bombastic beats determining the pace of the entire album is a little daunting. Call it ‘tuning up’ or something, for what follows is a masterful effort of collective consciousness. As the four meditate on being stuck in Jesusland for an additional four years, their playing spews venom and accurately voices people’s contempt for the current state of political affairs. It’s a raucous ride, but who better to hear shedding skin for 45 minutes than these four rocket scientists. Rarely do they break from weaving in, out, and around each other like blades in a good sword fight.

While the obvious technical precision is readily at their fingertips, these sessions point more toward sheer impulse and leaderless abstraction. Hill and Cline are able to match one another’s aggressive pace and push each other to new levels because of it. They are indeed a match made in heaven, and the most dominant factors in the mix. But Jonathan Hischke (Hella’s touring bass player) and Matt Zivich (Wilco’s live sound engineer) deserve much credit for being the glue that holds Damsel’s chaotic screams together. Their playing is an extension of the drum and guitar work, but their weird sonic bedding is crucial to the foundation of these pieces. On the rare occasions when all four do fall into a tight groove together, the resolution is glorious and sounds pre-planned.

While not an overtly political album, Distressed can be considered a protest album of sorts. It’s a document of its time: four men, tensions running high, dispelling their energy the only way they know how. Some people choose to march; Damsel roll tape.

Most Read