Ah, New York. The land of John Cage, the land of recent film While We’re Young and “facebook experiments.” This is from where we get the reinventions: this is where we get expression which scoffs at the notion of “product,” and has everything to do, typically, with ripe, contemporary human innovation.
“Tiled Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars,” writes the press release for this album, “was created was created in 2011 for Make Music New York’s annual Winter Solstice event.” The word “mobile,” here, is unfortunately troubling though for a couple of reasons, one of which is of course the fact that its very mention calls to mind images of cell phones, and the other being that, when you think about it, these guys can’t really use pedals, or at very least it’s discouraged. This deficiency rears its head as its most glaring about midway through track four a track which is ironically entitled “Pedal Swells” though has no real interior sea change of sound tweaking: the song is as monochromatic as Phish. Words would help. Some deviation from this tiresome, goopy minor chord progression would help. This is, after all, though cognitively borne as the soundtrack to a celebratory EVENT in which listeners are physically present, still being occasioned as music to sit down to with some headphones.
“Theme Variation” hints at a nascent ability to embody just that, until about 30 seconds through it becomes clear that again, the songs on this album don’t stand their ground against what I’d measure as an overly academic musical understanding. Excessive forays, which just become retreats, into chordal complexity, plague this project right up through here, when as we all know rock and roll was built on simple sonic warfare like “Roll over Beethoven” and “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” hell even Modest Mouse. A little reining of the “sophistication” regarding the way the notes form these songs, and a little more balls-to-the-wall directness, would be like a quenching drink of water here.
This being said, it’s rare, if not impossible, to find a track COMPLETELY empty of merit on this album, and an early standout is “Rivera Court,” which struts forth with some groovy close-picking, and a fittingly salsa vibe. They do simplify for this ditty in the department of chord layout; this helps, and the “light” timbre, rendered by a lack of opaque rhythm guitar, sustains the song with a certain dark, foreboding tension, rather than a flimsiness. But then, this track, for all its eclectic surprise, only makes it more stupefying to think about all the creative cooks in this kitchen, and how the hell these guys would ever come about something approaching territory of a “coherent album.” Maybe it’s better that they focus on maximizing firepower for their street festival, as “Techno Tilt,” which is focused but too long, is the first track to make use of a distortion pedal.
Pitchfork just released the seemingly somewhat humorous “Top 50 Ambient Albums of all Time” (like how many different ways can there be of turning a knob on a computer 10 degrees, or whatever?) Well, appropriately enough, ambience is something grossly missing from this album. All of these tracks seem to clunk in with these proud, bulbous drums, as if the band is trying to be heavy metal or something, and it’s clear the majority of their creative energy regarding the notion of “concept” was spent on the music’s unorthodox performance, leaving some holes in the project’s visions of song structure, as well as variety.