RISIL Non Meter Vol. 1

[Important; 2009]

Styles: ambient, post-rock
Others: Prefuse 73, Tortoise, Battles, Hella

Imagine being 17 years old again. Imagine rediscovering the music you held up to such importance then, music you may still listen to, music that opened the floodgates for your later tastes. Imagine the gods somehow granting you the ability to take your favorite musicians at that time and group them together to make hours and hours of music that would then be divvied up amongst a number of albums, each with their own concept or template. Imagine having the packaged product of a fraction of these sessions in your hand, ready to be opened and popped in and listened to. This was close to how I felt when I held Non Meters Vol. 1 by RISIL in my hands, an ongoing musical affair featuring the vanguard of the music community.

The project consists of Zach Hill (Hella, The Ladies), Tyondai Braxton (Battles), John McEntire (Tortoise), Alejandra Deheza (School Of Seven Bells), and Eva Puyuelo Muns (Savath & Savalas) working with Guillermo Herren (Prefuse 73), on a mission to create spacey ambient music with antiquated electronics and children’s toys. This was one Brian Chippendale short of being an imaginary band I probably would have conjured in my mind in high school, so, of course, I came into the record with very high hopes. Unfortunately, only a few were met. Non Meter Vol. 1 is filled to the edges with ideas never carried out completely, but while as a listener this proved to be frustrating, the sentiment charmed a very strange part of me: Musicians with more talent alone than many entire ensembles combined seamlessly, sewing musical thoughts together at a rate that practically sound stream of conscious.

The album floats and meanders in a way that an album with two very able drummers, Hill and McEntire, shouldn’t. “We Were Ruined Before We Started” is a fog that glides over silence with steel guitars, wind chimes, and vocal harmonies barely humming under the weight of it all. At almost seven-and-a-half minutes, this is the record’s best example of its ambient nature. Containing no steady pulse or rhythm, the piece has room to stretch out and breathe, every musical phrase drawn out or sped up at the player’s will. It isn’t building up to anything; it isn’t making way for a more structured second half. “We Were Ruined” rises and falls, inhales and exhales, massages the psyche.

If only they were all as good. “Son of Yucatan” is truly the sound of all parties involved giving each other hand jobs. A boring and pedestrian post-rock guitar line takes a long stroll to nowhere, while a vocal line is put in reverse and filtered through a whole bunch of shit. It starts building, with more guitars coming in and doing the same thing as the others, but it all builds only to promptly peter out. The song takes those few ideas too far, and the entire track itself isn’t long enough for anything to become of it. As a listener, you are caught in this weird in-between pocket of boredom where you are eager to continue listening because you assume something is going to happen, but nothing does. Then the next song starts, and you start the process of anticipation (and then denial) over again.

Occasionally, though, your patience pays off. “Was Once for Zanzo” sprints off after nearly 15 minutes of slow movement, and the wait is certainly worth it. Hi-hats syncopate and twist and dodge right in front of you, while unsettling guitar and synth lines shoot in and out of the ears. The heavy grounding of the drums is juxtaposed against peaceful voicing on the vibraphone, and the song runs away just as quickly as it ran into the foreground. Likewise, “Zantra” is glorious fanfare, with comforting synthesizers pumping out chords just under a violent and maniacal drum solo and electric tones shot through the vibrations of metal strings. It continues for a short while at the same intense pace, and then suddenly ends. These few moments of hardened machismo and virtuosity are refreshing on such a subdued album, and while the subdued approach is certainly welcome at times, towing the line between refreshingly subdued and boring shouldn’t be this difficult a task. And yet here I am, with some of my favorite musicians making music right now, begging them to be more ornate, garish, baroque, gaudy, anything. Instead, we get a patchy collection of compositions bordering on the self-indulgent.

1. Risil Intro
2. There Has To Be
3. Everyone Else’s World
4. This Air I Breathe
5. Open Rendering
6. Was Once for Zanzo
7. Better Run
8. Son of Yucatan
9. Start Slow
10. Oxygen Path
11. Implicate
12. Zantra
13. We Were Ruined Before We Started
14. Risil Outro

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