Tyondai Braxton HIVE1

[Nonesuch; 2015]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: electro-acoustic, idm, synth, ambient
Others: Black Dice, Sam Prekop, Growing, Ben Vida, Tortoise, Zs

Lucky for us, music isn’t just milk and cookies. It’s needles and pins and endlessly intricate conversations that exist for their own curious punctuation. There are rhythmic pockets and melodic fillings, and there are endless not-so-secret passages that give one’s life shape and lasting substance. Much like Sam Prekop’s last two records, HIVE1 is a sequence of bizarre incursions that are abstract but endlessly blooming, with refined, buzzy textures. But whereas Prekop’s work is solely his own, Tyondai Braxton has recruited synth wiz Ben Vida and three percussionists to help expand upon his darting yet distended false alarms. While atop five porous LED-lighted podiums (designed by artist Uffe Surland Van Tams, who saw Braxton sprawled on a concrete floor for a show and was moved to make a perch suitable to the inspired sounds he was experiencing), this vast 43-minute compendium of Ninja Warrior-like aural maze-runs were formed. Whatever benefit the platforms may hold for a live audience, it stands to reason that their presence enhanced the conversation between performers. Nobody overtakes, only feigns, leaving room for endless digression and refinement of a deliriously ecstatic, happy-to-be-lost mood.

Not to say there aren’t some basic Eno-skronk hooks on this thing, but it is a liberating listen in its warm, smirking combativeness. Patience is as essential (as it clearly was in the collaboration) as some sort of reverence for future jazz and lavender mist. This is low-down glitch-noir with a tamper streak so giddy as to be infectious rather than off-putting. You always wanna see which way the spacejunk careens, no matter how depleted your oxygen supply. The way these compositions unfold is dizzying and near-stultifying, with the comforting strains of the acoustic percussion serving as flits of song definition. Mostly one is in a transient, eavesdropping position when reckoning with the rough patterns and brazenly scrawled thumbnail sketches spilling out of this recording. “Outpost” is almost the remote wilderness its title evokes, with its steady chorus of peepers and general stillness. But that stillness is punctuated by some feisty lucite wingdings that have no earthly business zippin’ and zoppin’ in the middle of the Appalachian Trail.

Things get dancey, then decidedly undancey. The experience is littered with pauses that work like the equivalent of when a full-throttle house party is suddenly flooded with hard white lights and police. An icy wash of dystopian desolation persists in deep and slow, PAN-style reverberations. But this album somehow isn’t the don’t-look-down, bad-trip territory of much of the music it recalls. This might seem unfair, as HIVE1 is a sociable, museum-friendly entity vs. something more on the gnarlier far reaches of noise. But in sounds that are so gloriously context free (perhaps the tradition of free-jazz itself is the central context here, but it’s not a necessary prerequisite), it’s refreshing to be jarringly trundled about without quite being thrown overboard for your lily-livered faint-of-heartness. While some music requires an imaginative person to meet it half way, Braxton has produced excellent abstractions for those with a handicap in this area. It’s poppy and fun, but it doesn’t let you get too comfortable.

After coming across Robert Christgau’s blurb on Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, it’s especially heartening to be in a post-rock world. In a B+ review, he peaces out like so: “…there isn’t a really bad cut on this album. But it leads nowhere.” He also throws in a stray Eraserhead dig (oh, that Dean!), but my immediate reaction was to mistrust the notion that an album has to “lead” anywhere. As long as I’m allowed, I’m here to celebrate the heads making aimless music out there, from whatever discipline or lack thereof. The jabby, ridiculous blort that is “Studio Mariacha” speaks volumes in its two-minute runtime. It stands in as a laugh track for the glorious absurdity of the free-standing creative endeavor. Creation is its own success, its own history, its own purpose. And damned if it has a funny sound and feel to it. As we all know, Are We Not Men? led to all kinds of things, good and bad. But it never really had to be any more than the gem that it was to those it resonated with. While it may not be as seminal a work, HIVE1 is nonetheless vital and as ready to lead as your ears are to follow. As for a destination, you might wanna check with our cryo-esteemed rock history dioramist. Or just enjoy the ride, as so many will never stop selfishly and insipidly suggesting. Braxton and co. are clearly doing so, and it is deeply infectious.

Links: Tyondai Braxton - Nonesuch

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