40-minute orgy of beautiful dissonance!, October 3, 2005
Reviewer: Lord Chimp (Monkey World) - See all my reviews
And that is a _good_ thing, I might add. There is a danger in disregarding Rich Woodson's second ellipsis album an overly bombastic and complex affair. The danger of which I speak is missing the addictive and exhilarating qualities underlying this challenging release. We must remember that music is meaningful not because the tones, the time signatures, or the tonal directions in the piece. Its meaning comes from the experience attached to music. All this must surely sound shallow and pedantic, but it illuminates an important point: one must look to the experience rather than technical details for music's value. This requires a certain degree of aesthetic discipline, because experience is a secondary quality we adhere to sounds, and it is often difficult to isolate experience from the natural qualities in sound, but great albums are best heard with a disciplined intellectual temper. One can only hope that _The Nail That Stands Up Gets Pounded Down_ will find the right listeners and not be wasted on those too impatient or shallow.
I have said very little about the actual music on _The Nail That Stands Up Gets Pounded Down_. The band is a five-piece, led by clarinet, guitar, and saxophone, with drums and bass, and their music is something like a jazzy medium between Thinking Plague and Ligeti. I might even say this more like "Rock-In-Opposition" than most actual RIO bands! The fastidious attention to musical detail is evident at once, and the tightly organic sound of the ensemble in action suggests improvisation -- but the album packaging makes clear that there is no improvisation on this album. Hence, one might plausibly say that the album's most remarkable characteristic is its combination and consistent preservation of improvisatory spontaneity with insane ensemble complexity that no mortal could devise in a 'free' setting. With only cursory attention it is not possible to detect the filaments of structure. It appears much as contemporary art music often appears to some -- improvised disarray -- yet it, it has a passionate meticulousness if one listens for it. One is also unlikely to notice the range of catchy melodies throughout this album, ensnared as they are in thorny rhythms and nontonal harmonies. Hence, though ellipsis is all instrumental, i must draw comparison with my favorite avant-garde rock band, Thinking Plague -- both are dissonant and angular, but they remain pleasant and catchy if you can let it sink in. At its best moments, it evokes Fred Frith jamming with modern classical soloists and some top-echelon free-jazz rhythm unit...but it's all composed (!) in a dangerously dissonant, quirky sort of way, and even the most formidable music theorist will be defied should he attempt to grasp the frantic and complex rhythms.
I would recommend this album highly to those who don't mind pausing their frantic lives to listen, and i mean _really_ listen, to an absorbing, lively, but challenging piece of music.