Better Sums than Sketches
Often times, things are really just a sum of their parts. You look at the label on this record and see the name Ipecac Recordings. Ipecac– alright, it’s Mike Patton owned– interesting. Then you discover that the trio of musicians here, Alexander Hacke (Einstürzende Neubauten), Duane Denison (The Jesus Lizard) and Brian Kotzur (The Silver Jews) all come from musical universes unto themselves, with a diverse pedigree for sound, mood and chaos. You probably would be unable to “guess” what the album sounds like right off the bat, but to put it simply, The Unsemble is an intriguing proposition.
However, they are not the first instrumental musical trio with dissonant influences to hit wax, so to keep your ear and intrigue, these three had to make something that breaks the mold. To this end, The Unsemble succeeds and it doesn’t. True, though you may hear small glimpses of each musician’s personal background (“Improv 5” has that discordant rumbling often associated with The Jesus Lizard) one could surmise that they are each far enough off of their musical base to provide artistic satisfaction.
The music itself, which is comprised of fifteen tracks, four of which specifically bear the title “Improv,” it is clear that the album was made in an experimental mood. With any experimental instrumental-centric projects, you are bound to encounter some thrilling moments of musicality, such as “Circles,” which combines a simple pounding drum pattern, churning bass and synth work and a guitar line that seems like it is dipped in curry. On the other side of the coin, though, you have tracks like the four “Improv” pieces that don’t affect much in your musical pysche, and don’t keep the attention for very long.
One questions why The Unsemble, or any band really chooses to include these kinds of tracks on their proper albums, as even from a musician’s perspective, they provide diminishing returns sonically. True, though they likely provide a kind of “sketchbook” look into the other tracks on the album and present the raw chemistry of the three musicians, they are many other tracks here that make those two cases even better than these skeletal pieces do.
The latter are the ones that bring you to the dance and what keep you here; the climbing “Neon” and the bristling “Shadows” for example. The album shines when it shines and is dull when it is dull, but the intrigue you paid for is here in full, and should at least keep the name in the back of your mind until next time.