Brooklyn trio Liars’ seventh album lives up to its title. “Mess” certainly is one, but this being a Liars creation, the aural trainwreck sounds at once appealing and mildly portentous.
Psychedelic electronic dance music seems to be what Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross have settled on this time around. Good lord, do they do this kind of thing well. Listening to “Mess,” you feel like you’ve been walking on a beer-soaked floor all night, your feet sticking with each step, and now it’s 10 minutes to closing time, you can’t find a cab, and your phone is about to die. Strangely, you’re cool with all of this.
Unrepentant art-nerds who hatched the plan for their band while attending the California Institute for the Arts, Andrew, Hemphill and Gross make club music for intellectuals – a strain of pop that the beautiful people are likely to find too demanding, even if it is ultimately quite danceable, especially this time around.
Unlike the disquieting Autobahn hum of “They Were Wrong, So We Drowned” and the progressive computer noise that populated “WIXIW” – the two albums that earned Liars the lion’s share of their reputation as forward-looking creative types – “Mess” sounds like it very well could have been made under the influence of something illegal. It’s a party album, but you, the listener, walk in on the party already in progress, and it’s already completely out of control.
“Mask Maker” kicks things off, Andrew’s voice arriving like a robot on a weekend bender, as the synths and sequencers chew up the landscape with a glee bordering on the obnoxious. Like the majority of its partners in crime on “Mess,” the drum machine groove propelling “Mask Maker” suggests that this music is tailor-made for club grinding. But if you listen beyond and above the beat, it’s doubtful you’ll feel like dancing. This stuff is just plain too strange, and seems to demand you pay full attention, preferably while standing motionless with your mouth hanging open. Liars don’t seem to want to surrender the music to the listener – rather, they dangle it in front of you and dare you to snatch it away.
If you manage to do so, then you’ll find in “Mess” an album populated by esoteric art-pop of the first order. Most of “Mess” sounds like the perfect soundtrack for a night when the going has gotten weird, and the weird have turned pro. And in album closer “Left Speaker Blown,” you’ve been gifted one of the finest “morning after” tunes in recent memory while you clean up the previous evening’s mess.
– Jeff Miers
I love this record. Unequivocally. And a lot.
Tigran Hamasyan is the 26-year-old jazz pianist and composer whom Chick Corea is proud to tell anyone who will listen that he first heard when Tigran was a teenager and Corea was playing a gig in Armenia. To the degree that anyone ever really “discovers” anyone, Corea’s were the first American jazz ears to hear how extraordinary a musician Tigran is.
He lives in Los Angeles now but his heart on this disc is still in Armenia, which is the glory of it. What he does here is adapt Armenian folk songs to jazz. And no, this is in no way jazz imposed from outside on Armenian folk music but Armenian folk music used to find terrific rhythms that can pass, more or less, as jazz. There’s no rhythmic jive of any sort on this disc. This is Armenian music presented by a young jazz musician who wants to love and honor it.
And too, there are vocals of all sorts – lovely soprano voices, roughneck voices sounding as if from mountain taverns, and beauteous chants that sound like the Armenian version of Pat Metheny at his most pastoral.
And most importantly, there is Tigran’s own piano in the center of it all. The fact that the melodic and rhythmic sources here are folk sources doesn’t change the fact that this music was transformed utterly by a jazz composer of extraordinary talent.
Destined, with little doubt, to be one of the jazz discs of the year.
– Jeff Simon
The Bad Plus
“The Rite of Spring”
An interesting idea that turns out to be in practice, the lamentable exact opposite of Tigran Hamasyan’s gorgeous jazz adaptation of Armenian folk music (see review above).
This is a jazz piano trio version of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” with almost all the superimposition and kitschification that it seems to imply.
It isn’t that Stravinsky didn’t create a two-piano version of one of the greatest of all modern orchestral masterpieces. He did.
But what he didn’t do and would never have wanted done – because it is, in essence, close to pointless – is adapt the music for a jazz piano power trio with bass and drums.
It’s the rhythms and melodies of Stravinsky’s original orchestral music that are its essence. Superimposing conventional – or even unconventional – jazz rhythms on Stravinsky’s originals turns too much of this into a kind of well-played but trivializing rhythmic squabble.
There’s so much beauty and power to Stravinsky’s original music that the disc isn’t a total loss. It’s just that The Bad Plus doesn’t adapt Stravinsky as much as they do miniaturize and denature it.
We know him principally as the drummer with progressive/alternative/folk outfit Wilco, whose work he greatly aided in its transition from alt-country and roots rock into a post-modern mélange of various influences. But Glenn Kotche doesn’t sit around idly twirling his drumsticks when Mr. Tweedy and company are on a break. Kotche is a composer of some merit, a musician with a rather fearless experimental streak, and a percussionist who sees no good reason why tenets of Steve Reich’s methodologies can’t be applied to rock music, and vice versa.
So “Adventureland,” Kotche’s first solo nod since the 2006 release “Mobile,” lives up to its name throughout. A sense of playfulness is ever apparent here, but there is a darkness too, a slightly foreboding presence made palpable by the presence of the Kronos Quartet, whose strings form the harmonic gray matter of the heady seven-movement composition “Anomaly.” The piece forms the core of the album, and rhythmic propulsion adds intensity to each movement, a result of Kotche’s compositional methods – he wrote the piece at the drum kit, assigning each of his four limbs to one instrument in the quartet, so that the bass drum would represent the cello, and so forth.
The influence of Reich is impossible to miss here, but Kotche filters that influence through sensibilities that are wholly his own, particularly during the progressive-pastoral montage that comprises Movement II. Elsewhere, the “Haunted” suite finds more arrhythmic, and sometimes atonal, vignettes conspiring to form a slightly more off-putting harmonic and rhythmic landscape. It all adds up to a surprisingly narrative-driven collection of musical themes. Kotche continues to surprise and delight, both within and without Wilco.