Philip Gayle The Mommy Row

[Family Vineyard; 2005]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: acoustic improvisation, abstract composition, Japanese koto-inspired art rock
Others: Eugene Chadbourne, Derek Bailey, Sun City Girls, Scott Tuma

There is an undeniable asceticism and purity of form demonstrated by Philip Gayle's The Mommy Row, his second recording on Family Vineyard. It's an expressionistic, oftentimes visionary release that is both naïve and honest, serving as the manifestation of Gayle's uncanny ability to turn raw, unadulterated noise into something that is not only listenable, but fascinating as well. There is a primitive, childlike simplicity to The Mommy Row's improvisations that illustrates a Far Eastern minimalist aesthetic at work.

Philip Gayle specializes in playing the acoustic guitar, in addition to a wide variety of other stringed instruments. The Mommy Row features 11 experimental pieces performed, among other instruments, on the 12-string guitar, prepared toy piano, baritone ukulele, and gong. Gayle's preferred method of creating music, however, is far from conventional. Instead, Gayle prefers to focus on coaxing sounds, rather than notes, per se, from his instruments. Though it is not an entirely amelodic and atonal effort, The Mommy Row features pieces that are essentially an amalgamation of "foreign" sounds created by traditional instruments; these recordings routinely have the effect of sounding not only ethnic, in a generic sense, but otherworldly. In most cases, it's impossible to identify precisely which instrument is being played at any given time -- when an instrument is being thumped, scraped, bowed, and banged upon, it's difficult to discern just precisely which one is the "victim" in question. Though a few tracks on The Mommy Row betray a decidedly Japanese influence, others show a spontaneity that demands an intensity of listening that goes well beyond a superficial level to reveal their unusual, but definite structure.

Gayle has indeed spent time living and performing in Japan, so it makes sense that there is a notably Japanese presence on these pieces. One must assume that the musician has a more than passing familiarity with the koto, as much of his music, stylistically, recalls (however vaguely) traditional koto melodies and scales. Strings are plucked in a percussive way, rather than strummed on these pieces; the notes hang suspended in space, creating an odd sense of tension against the backdrop of the tracks' frequently eerie dissonance. Though Philip Gayle makes liberal use of overdubbing on The Mommy Row, the sounds that he produces do not appear themselves to be digitally manipulated. The unrefined nature of his work has the effect of giving these pieces a distinctly analog, organic austerity.

Admittedly, it is going to take a certain type of listener to appreciate The Mommy Row. The record is extremely experimental and dense. Though by strict definition it is in fact noise, there is without question method in these recordings. Frankly, it's an unmistakably challenging work that is ultimately rewarding to those who are willing to put out the effort required to understand it.

1. Gyo Gyo Gyo
2. Zoomly Zoomly
3. Kanojo No Pan
4. Payphone, The
5. Koyangi Sesu
6. Certificate
7. Cow People
8. 128 High
9. April Warp
10. Flat Tire
11. Yagano

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