Random Touch The Elegance of Falling

[Roadnoise Productions; 2005]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: progressive rock, avant-garde, experimental rock, free jazz
Others: The Residents, Frank Zappa, John Zorn, Marc Ribot

There truly are few bands out there quite like Random Touch. Mysterious,
enigmatic, and delightfully refreshing, this Illinois trio consistently performs
music that appears consciously designed to confound the senses. Following on the
heels of 2004's brilliant A Parade of Dusty Hobos (by way of their
quasi-multimedia effort The You Tomorrow), the group's self-released 2005
full-length The Elegance of Falling shows the band experimenting with a
somewhat broader palette that marries elements of progressive rock and fusion
jazz to the outfit's existing formula.

Heady and captivating, The Elegance of Falling defies conventional
compositional logic in almost every way. Like many of the similar-minded artists
on the rosters of Mike Patton's Ipecac and John Zorn's Tzadik labels, Random
Touch are concerned with testing the expressive limits of free jazz, rock, and
frequently a combination of both. But while Zorn's modus operandi
typically is to manifest his experimental inclinations in the form of insane
jazz freakouts, the works of Random Touch are veritable nebulae of raw, discrete
jazz and rock textures. Superficially, many of the tracks on The Elegance of
lack a distinct compositional structure, but upon further
examination, these pieces reveal an underlying logic not unlike that of
self-organizing systems. It is often only by the simple force of gravity alone
that these pieces seem to be anchored together. This is music that alternates
between chaos and control.

An indelible characteristic of Random Touch is the uniqueness of the interplay
that exists between the band's constituent members. Drummer Christopher Brown
plays in an astonishingly abstract yet fluid style that, despite its complexity
and over-the-top time signature changes, is firmly rooted in the jazz idiom.
James Day's keyboards oscillate between dissonant piano chords and washes of
eerie vintage analog synthesizer. Featured more prominently on The Elegance
of Falling
than on previous efforts, Day's keyboards moor the record to an
early-'70s fusion jazz and mid-'70s prog rock sensibility. Tired as the
progressive designation may be, however, Random Touch perform a unique rock/jazz
hybrid that is progressive music of the first order. Day and Brown are
complemented by frequent collaborator Scott Hamill's fractured blues fretwork.
Falling somewhere stylistically between Jimi Hendrix and Marc Ribot on this
outing, Hamill's guitar playing is deceptively adroit. Like contemporary Bill
Frisell, Hamill seems comfortable playing in a variety of styles, often within
the same few bars. Employing jagged, heavily overdriven shards of electric
guitar chords, Hamill even manages to evoke Neil Young's instrumental score to
Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (as well as Young's experimental Arc) in
how skillfully he is able to wring primitive, emotional intensity from his
instrument. Fundamentally, it is Hamill's contribution to these pieces that
brings into being the ultimate, glaring ambiguity with regard to Random Touch.
We ask ourselves: is this rock or is it jazz? Perhaps neither.

The Elegance of Falling seems informed to no small degree by
idiosyncratic artists The Residents and Frank Zappa — artists who were never
afraid to rattle the cages of admirers and detractors alike. Like Zappa, Random
Touch effectively subvert any existing musical genre and defy convention, yet
manage to create compositions that feature prodigious musicianship coupled with
a darkly humorous, somewhat unsettling sense of irony. The vast majority of
The Elegance of Falling
is probably improvised. But this is improvisation
borne of extensive technical expertise, a deep working knowledge of modern
classical composition, and years of playing together.

In an era in which cookie-cutter indie rock and ad nauseam revivalist bandwagon
jumping set the standard for innovation, Random Touch are a much-welcomed
relief. Yes, The Elegance of Falling will be difficult for some to listen
to, but within these 12 tracks resides a haunting, subtle beauty that others may
just find enlightening.

1. Evidence of Ignition
2. Retrofitting the Dream
3. Soundtrack to a Thought
4. Configuring an Exit
5. The Softness of Moments
6. What Passions Rise
7. Playing in the Dirt
8. Before a Flickering Flame
9. In an Elegant Arc
10. The Dark and the Hidden
11. Sideshow Avatar
12. These Frictions Propel

Most Read