Barry Adkins Jr.
One can only imagine what must have gone through the mind of Ken Rubenstein as he composed “Invert and Transcend”. And while I suppose we could ask him, where’s the fun in that?
Heavily-laden with acoustic guitars that possess a possibly oriental vibe, intermingled with high female vocals, and general kookiness, you may reach the end of this album with the same bewildered stare that you started with. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it will certainly prompt repeated listens to see if you can get inside the head of a unique composer. And with Rubenstein’s ability to mix complex arrangements with beautiful and catchy passages, these repeatedly listens will leave you with a mindful of pleasant sounds. You know, the kind that you find dancing around your head, though you can’t remember where you first heard them.
But for those of you who are more interested in a unique sound than pretty passages, you’ll certainly appreciate this album. It is littered with layer upon layer of fascinating twists and interesting phrasing. And it always helps to throw in an ounce of humor, as shown in the song, “You’re All Whores”, which offers a great example of both complexity and wit.
If beauty in passages and complexity in phrasing are not enough to convince you, you could always add this album to your collection simply due to it possessing, what I believe is, the longest song title ever conceived. Clocking in at a mighty twenty-five words in length, it is certainly the longest song title I have ever read.
This isn’t an easy album to absorb, I’ll admit. There is so much to experience within this album that it’s hard to fully grasp everything at once. But the composition is extraordinary and deserving of repeated listens, and most certainly of a first.
The best guitar album of the last ten years
This album was ten years in the making and the wait was well worth it. Every song is unique, strong, beautiful and interesting. There are literally no weak spots and absolutely no filler. "Smallest Words" (featuring the vocals of Wendy Parker) is compositionally tight and very melodic; "Xin Gap Lan" is probably my favorite track for the brilliant and expressive horn parts (I have listened to this song probably 100 times at least, no exaggeration); the "Whores" suite is musical journey of epic proportions to say the least -- Ken takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride here and the conclusion is as soothing and meditative as the beginning is jarring and shocking; "Lament for Saint Thomas of Canterbury" grabs you with the sheer force of the melodies and counterpoint -- this is a weighty and heavy ride.
Ken's playing features all kinds of exotic and idyosyncratic
techniques and phrasing quirks that can be found nowhere else. Not even the hint of a cliche in sight. The title track is a good representative of what Ken is up to: wide interval riffs juxtaposed against dancing motifs, angelic vocals, twisted phrasing, unexpected arrangement, and fury mixed with delicate and gentle articulations.
So much of what I like about this album are the subtle things that most musicians wouldn't think about -- like the passing of melody lines between, for example, a trumpet reaching up to kiss a soaring vocal line. Ken also knows how to use space and textures to add weight to his musical ideas.
This album isn't just for aficionados of guitar music or the avant garde, experimental, or progressive crowd -- this album is for those who like genius-level music.
The album is also well-recorded and sounds stunning. It's a pleasure to listen to through my studio monitors. Enjoy!
IE -- www.kronosonic.com
Incredible talent! Must have for all guitarists and experimental music aficiona
Ken is a pioneer in the genre that many of us have only recently come to know--that of experimentalism, especially as it relates to the beloved, popular stringed instrument we all adore--the guitar. Experimental music is not wholly constituted of just random noise (though that sort of aleatoric music has its rightful, valid position in the realm of experimentalism); Ken (and a few others like him in this relatively young anti-genre) has shown that such music takes talent, skill, and courage. They are treading sonic ground where no one else has dared walk for fear of being misunderstood or outcast. Unlike the "others" in the music industry that popular culture tries to cram down our throats as currency in art, Ken and his ilk are the REAL pioneers--the REAL artists. They should be on the cover of Rolling Stone--not the latest Brittany Spears reject (or whatever corporate invention happens to be popular at the time).
"Invert and Transcend" offers a rich treasure from the first to the last cut. Unlike some experimental music that can be tremendously dissonant and sonically overbearing, this CD is acoustically painted and very approachable for the casual listener, as well as for the trained musician. At times sounding similar to Michael Hedges and at others undefinable, this work is a watershed auditory experiment. Ken has chops that any guitar nut will appreciate, but the music is the star here--his technique is tastefully employed only as a tool to relate the story.
Ken breaks the listener in easily with a short acoustic intro tune called "Yudawee Sang With Love and Joy." The song features some very nice guitar synth embellishments and short bursts of fat, distorted guitar.
"Smallest Words" opens with a nice, chirping koto motif, interwoven between the left and right channels. Then there is an abrupt segue into the acoustic guitar introduction, followed by powerful, conjoining bass and drums. A real treat awaits the listener, as soprano Wendy Parker beautifully sings the unique melody line. Ken likes odd meters, and you'll hear plenty of that here and throughout the album. This number reminds me a bit of Steve Morse from "High Tension Wires." The song is full of changes and turns, so there's no chance of boredom setting in.
The next cut is "Xin Gap Lan." Soft, droning, flute-like synths lead into a very beautiful, arpeggiated acoustic flurry. The material is very rich, flowing, and extremely non-repetitive. Ken sucks you in and takes you on a journey of texture and variation. Interspersed throughout the beautiful tune is an unintelligible spoken word track, and a tastefully delayed horn solo (possibly created via guitar synth).
One of my favorites is "A Man Called Whores / You're All Whores / Lost In All That I'm Not." Here, the listener is taken through more adventurous territory. The opening lines, spoken in Arabic by Ameer, set the tone for the tune, which has a very Eastern ethnic feel, with incredible string lines, odd rhythms, and snapping drum corps snare lines. The spoken Arabic at the front of the tune has an extremely rhythmic, almost argumentative cadence that defines the bedlam to follow. Then there is a chaotic, bizarre interlude of atonal bliss, which rounds back into less dissonant territory toward the end, revisiting the sweet singing of Wendy Parker.
"A Song for Paul" opens with spoken exclamations of terminal drug-induced delirium (I'm assuming of "Paul") and cascading acoustic guitar work. The tune is thick with ambience and underlying busy fretwork, and the rhythm section is spectacular, as it is throughout the recording. There is a very cool upward glissando appearing throughout the tune that translates the emotional richness of this work.
"Broms" is an excellent atonal acoustic piece with some gorgeous Metheny-esque guitar synth lines. At the top of the tune, doubled guitar and synth phrases busily duck and dodge (in pulses of 8) around a quickly paced bass line. A short middle section here encapsulates remarkable guitar synth solo work.
"Lament for St. Thomas of Cantebury" is a nice horn and string arrangement, full of interesting counterpoint. "Invert and Transcend" is another of my favorites on the CD. Here, as in other places on the CD, there is little in the way of static, reappearing ideas; Ken is constantly moving, cascading, driving, and flowing from place to place--rhythmically and melodically, asking us to come with him. Miss Parker's singing talents reappear again on this piece, with an unusual melodic line, and provide a transition into a rapid, tasteful ethnic guitar passage.
"Woe Be Unto Thy Tangible Soul Who Cares Not What's At The End of the Pole As Long As He Fills Your Tight Black Hole" may be one of the longest (and most tongue-in-cheek) titles ever dreamed into existence by an artist, but the musical ideas contained within betray the covert Freudian humor of the song's moniker. More pleasing, pulsing, masterfully composed and performed acoustic guitar, synth, bass, and drums are found within the left and right bookends of the piece. By this point, the listener wonders if Ken will run out of ideas. The music is experienced with a belief that he certainly is conjuring it all at will. Midway through the approximately six-minute work is a staggering, traipsing guitar breakdown, replete with wailful string lines.
The last piece, "Beatrice Foley (for Charles Rosenberg)," is a short, mournful, slow work that initially starts with lightly tinkling piano lines, which, at first, seem to be trying to convey a melancholy narrative. Joining in toward the end are interesting synth bloops and, possibly, a guitar lightly feeding back in the background. A nice, soft, cushiony ending to a terrific project.
Ken is one of the great talents and pioneers of experimental music and guitar--a new realm of musical exploration also championed by such great artists as Neil Haverstick and Dan Stearns. This album is a must-have if you're sick of the "popular garbage" or "wannabe popular garbage" that pervades most Western music. As a matter of fact, just check out kronosonic.com to meet the REAL undiscovered talents of creative guitar and experimental music and art. These are the guys I look up to musically; they're real, talented, approachable, and nice folks too. Ken and others like him are the patriarchs of this genre--this anti-genre.