Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Led Bib—Bring Your Own (Cuneiform)

To adapt a line from LA punk legends Fear, Led Bib’s alright if you like saxophones. Fortunately I do—I haven’t always, but I came around to them. As a staunch rockist, I regarded them as poisonous garnish (the sax on IQ’s Nomzamo in ’87 filled me with rage). All I needed to hear was saxophone being properly deployed. After Van der Graaf Generator opened the gateway, the sax and I were good to go. A bit of skronk is good for what ails ya.

Led Bib’s got two wild, battling saxophones capable of erecting walls of sound, then crashing right through them, raining blows down upon each other. The British quintet play jazz…of a sort. Their music marries the attack of rock with jazz’s freedom and exploration, which I admit reads like marketing copy, but that’s how I hear it. It’s two great tastes in one. The prominent Fender Rhodes tints everything with a bit of the’70s jazz-rock/Canterbury sound. It’s not ’70s-style fusion and it’s not techy like Zevious, for example.

They’ve made their own rules. They’re sometimes quite heavy, as on “Is That a Woodblock?”, where the bass growls away, or the menacing opening of “Little X”, one of the few tracks not composed by drummer Mark Holub. The tracks often start with an ultra-catchy head played at full-tilt. You can parp along with them, if you’re given to parping. But Led Bib don’t milk their themes; they get on with it. Where they’ll go after establishing the head is always open to question. On “Shapes and Sizes” the band races each other like a grid of F1 cars heading towards the first corner. They strike a more placid mood on the brief “Hollow Ponds,” or on the occasionally mournful “Winter.” Sometimes the whole endeavour collapses, and you’re left wondering how they’re going to claw themselves out of the pit they’ve fallen into, as on “Moth Dilemma.” But they always do.

Like their Mercury Prize-shortlisted Cuneiform debut Sensible Shoes, Bring Your Own brims with action and adventure. It’s a blast, in short. With duel-to-the-death saxes, great riffs, and crack musicianship in service of exciting, frequently weird, songs, what’s not to love? If you don’t like saxophones, well, grow up! You’re missing out on some stirring modern music.

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