The artwork for this double album is dominated by marvellous photos of the CMS detector at the Large Hadron Collider. The images echo the shape of the the CDs within. Collider would have been a good name for the album, actually. The trio of Cline (guitars), Devin Hoff (bass), and Scott Amendola (drums) smashes together a number of styles and influences on this grab bag of rocking jazz noise, with often blinding results.
Their music has as much in common with jazz as it does avant-rock. Let’s call it improvisational rock. Some of these pieces build and climb towards howling climaxes like Godspeed! You Black Emperor or Isis (Aaron Turner, take note if you’re looking for new collaborators!). The Nels Cline Singers also have a lot in common with Southern Lord fringe-metal bands like Earth and SUNN O))) and Eagle Twin, where black metal and drone mix with Bill Frisell, Eyvind Kang, and La Monte Young. I found Initiate in HMV’s Jazz section, but really, it could have been filed anywhere.
Disc two, recorded live in San Francisco, is especially loose and wild—anyone arriving late might have thought they’d come to a Boris concert by mistake. On “Raze,” that’s exactly what they do. “Fly Fly” is an avalanche of glorious noise. “Thurston County” is, as you’d expect, an homage to Sonic Youth. It’s easy to imagine Mr. Moore crooning along with its pounding melodic riffs.
Anyone dismayed by having their earholes singed by all that just has to sit tight, because as I said, the Singers can lay down just about anything with gusto. “Blues, Too” is a delicate tribute to Jim Hall. “Sunken Song” is a rollicking “actual” jazz number. The live set closes with their take on Weather Report’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz.” With a setlist running from the aforementioned face-melters to funky 70s fusion, this must have been quite a gig!
The studio-based disc one has much the same mix of material, captured with a little more restraint. There’s lots to explore in this sonic curiosity shop: the slow-building pulse of “Mercy (Procession),” the spacey sounds in “Red Line to Greenland,” some acoustic folk-jazz on “Grow Closer,” and the kling-klang mechanoid atmosphere of “Scissor/Saw.” I want to say there’s something for everybody on this album, but it’s not a question of wading through the tracks to find something you'll like—it’s all killer. Adventurous and visceral, The Nels Cline Singers make serious music that’s easy to enjoy.