Random Touch A True Conductor Wears a Man

[Token Boy; 2008]

Styles: free rock, spacey jazz improv
Others: Rune Grammofon bands, Baja

“humorous to the point of ill humor at times”

Improv veterans Random Touch are up to their old tricks once again on A True Conductor Wears a Man, enrobing radically unstructured performances in shimmery, elusive layers. The fizzing sheets of synth tone and curious guitar sounds they drape over the anarchic percussion and asymmetric harmonies give you the impression of an iridescent sea trying, unsuccessfully, to cover up underwater tremors. Heavily-treated robotic vocals also swim into this perplexing mix from time to time, and in the end, it’s hard to tell if this music is bubbling up from unseen fathoms or touching down from flying saucers. In either case, it seems clear that Random Touch are just as eager to play you, the listener, as they are to play their instruments. They cheerfully gum up your ability to predict what will happen next while rocking out in multiple directions: it’s “jamming” in two senses.

“A Slow March Becomes a Flight” melds a furiously percolating guitar solo with the fine-dining panache of stately piano chords, as cymbal crashes and chattering snare patterns mediate between the two, never letting them completely unite or separate. It’s like a dysfunctional family, its members hurling epithets at each other across a dinner table but never quite coming to blows. This pent-up aggression dissipates across the back half of the album, as the band traffics more in electro-acoustic études, sending dusky shafts of static into plangent, reverbed guitar textures. Unpredictable clicks, crackles, and beeps provide rough-hewn filigree. “Illumination of the Flesh” is a pretty example of this kind of piece. The album closes on a contemplative note with “Exponentially,” a thrumming drone accented with truncated slivers of the sounds that battled earlier in the record.

You could say that the music Random Touch make is participatory: they invite everyone and everything in, including chance and the listener. This can certainly be frustrating, as I have the impulse, once I’ve gotten such an invitation, to want to direct the action, to make predictions and then see them come true. The members are talented enough as improvisers that such predictions rarely turn out. If you accept the supple rules of this aesthetic, the only real misstep to be identified on A True Conductor is the rambling, vocal-dominated “Something Worth Waiting For,” which seems to block the listener out more than invite her in. “Incompleteness Becomes Us” was the title of the first song from their 2007 album Alchemy, and it’s true. When the rest of A True Conductor seems so permeable, the unexpected closure on this one song is like a misplaced barrier, a stray ticket booth at a lawless theme park.

I really appreciate a group like Random Touch, one that seems to say, “Here is our experience” instead of “Here is my product,” especially since the listener is included in that “our.” While a pop song can sometimes seem indifferent to the presence of the listener, this music demands her presence and her participation. If you’re looking for music that is both expertly worked over and still fundamentally, purposely unfinished, A True Conductor Wears a Man is your ticket.

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