Paul Metzger Gedanken Splitter

[Roaratorio; 2008]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles:  avant-garde
Others: Josef van Wissem, Six Organs of Admittance, hillbillies on shrooms

Paul Metzger is the Dr. Frankenstein of the banjo. His modified contraptions -- most notably the 21-string banjo that has become his trademark -- blend the sounds of the Ozarks and the Mediterranean. The tangled mass of fingers that produce Metzger’s brash stringed experiment cross genre boundary lines, leaving listeners to forgo pretense and to just listen to the creations as they were intended to be heard.

Many of Metzger’s pieces are cohesive; some even begin with a succinct melody before giving way to the art of impromptu. Then there’s Gedanken Splitter, which chooses to fly all over the musical map with very few anchors to keep Metzger grounded in making actual music. Much of Metzger’s work is formed from improvisations, and it’s from this well that Metzger is best served. He is able to find a post to keep tethered to the ground as he floats above, letting the wind and his 21 strings blow him wherever they may go. The album refuses to be tied to the ground, choosing to chuck aside any melody in pursuit of random fiddling.

Aside from a few points of reference in Gedanken Splitter’s three tracks, Metzger tears into each composition with reckless abandon. Album opener “Geshenk” benefits from Metzger’s tantrums as they jazz up the monotone drone that sets the mood. “Geshenk” is deliberate, thoughtful, and meditative. The Middle Eastern sounds emanating from Metzger’s bastardized banjo are coaxed out with a wandering bow and a heavy hand. Each note tells a story of despair where no pictures or back story is needed. “Geshenk” gets its points across without a single hindrance, furthering Metzger’s reputation as storyteller on top of inventor.

Gedanken Splitter suffers from its lengthier tracks, “Zugentgleisung” and “Gedanken Splitter.” Both borrow from Metzger’s improvisational skills, but what’s sorely missing is a singular focus. Much of the 35 minutes the tracks occupy are sloppy, resembling the noodlings of a man looking to erect a new sound out of his homemade monstrosity. A glimpse at Metzger’s process should be a treat to fans of his work and his uncanny abilities, but “Zugentgleisung” and “Gedanken Splitter” make it feel like work. There are flashes of brilliance, but there are times a particular sound of tangent is ruined by Metzger’s fingers working overtime as they seek out a new twang or ting.

Gedanken Splitter suffers from a case of A.D.D. Metzger -- usually focused in the midst of his improvisations -- fails to reign in his excesses during this latest batch of banjo experimentations. The pieces are there to create Metzger’s finest monster to date, but the jumbled assembly has turned Metzger’s Frankenstein into an overworked, under-functioning brick of parts.

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