Sunday, November 30, 2014

Jeff Younger's Devil Loops Volume 2 CD Release, June 18, 2014 at the Orpheum Annex

Jeff Younger continues to push his Devil Loops project into new territories, and this event was the furthest he’s pushed it yet. In my reviews of his previous CDs, I’ve noted that the music itself is layered and detailed, alternately soothing and aggressive, and rewards close listening. Younger composes in the moment with guitar, amp, and effects pedals, but also with household objects (combs and nail files) and even a new set of gestures and ways of playing—breathing into the pickups, mashing the strings, or scraping the tremolo springs behind the guitar body. Avant-rock bands like Sonic Youth have been sticking screwdrivers through their strings for decades, but Younger takes these techniques in a completely different direction. Devil Loops on CD is a deep listening experience, its abstract nature also inviting interpretations from other artistic disciplines.

That multi-disciplinary potential was fully and wonderfully realized at the Devil Loops volume 2 CD release event at the Orpheum Annex. The Annex is a big room that’s quite a shift from the kinds of intimate venues that Younger often performs in, but it was perfectly suited to this event, which combined music, dance and visual art into a often-dazzling whole. Every performer brought the spirit of Devil Loops alive in all that project’s challenging, mischievous permutations.

The night started with a playback of several tracks from the album with video accompaniment by Flick Harrison, as well as a solo dance segment by Renee Sigouin to “Queen Bee.” Sigouin was joined by fellow dancers Elissa Hanson and Alexa Sloveig Mardon for “Roomies.” To finish the first half, Younger took his seat on the huge stage (the floor, to be precise) and embarked on the first live Devil Loops music of the event. After intermission, the action got more freewheeling and frenzied, with Younger joining forces with drummer Dylan Van Der Schyff, Chris Gestrin on piano and synthesizer, and JP Carter on trumpet and effects. As the various configurations of dancers and musicians worked together, the action was so involving, the attention required so demanding, that I sometimes wanted to laugh out loud at the brave abandon of it. (I apologize to any of the dancers who came near the front row and might have noticed my agitation—I was just getting caught up in it all.) Dylan Van Der Schyff is the most creative drummer I’ve even seen—for every “out there” technique that Younger used, Van Der Schyff had one of his own. For the show’s finale, every performer was out on the floor, including Flick Harrison, who was shooting live video from every perspective for simultaneous projection on the big backdrop screen.

To see this group of performers working so well together to manifest the whole Devil Loops ethos was a testament to Jeff’s curatorial skills. Although he was at the centre of a lot of the action, he remained a calm presence, presiding over the performances as a guiding spirit, letting the ensemble of diverse talents speak for itself—and they did him and his music proud. It was a night that left my head buzzing with inspiration and endless possibilities.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Yob—Clearing the Path to Ascend (Neurot)

The newest release from the legendary Oregonian doom trio turns out to be the most open and expansive Yob album. With only four songs, it originally struck me as a very long EP. I felt during the first few listens that it might have lacked enough content to make for a satisfying 62 minutes. I still can’t shake that notion; however, Clearing the Path to Ascend just needs to breathe and be whatever it wants to be. Not forcing things is what Yob’s all about. In a way, they’re saying more by saying less. “In Our Blood” eases us into the album with a mere 17 minutes of everything that makes Yob great: lumbering riffs rippling with complex overtones, downward shifts into sparse strumming and shock-cut volume dynamics—the whole whisper-to-a-roar gambit. “Nothing to Win” almost takes the form of a conventional rock song with its tense-verse-and-cathartic-chorus structure. That impression is undone, of course, by the dissolution of all that during the song’s second half. But man, does it build to a huge finish. The song highlights the album’s murky production—it’s not bad or detrimental to the material; it’s just such an onslaught of competing tones. That element of the Yob aesthetic hasn’t changed. The drums fight to get through beneath the mattress pile of guitars, which is always threatening to collapse and smother you for good. The last track is really something magical, and it’s the one I’ve had to work hardest to change my perspective on. At first “Marrow” seemed bloated—a nearly 19-minute song made from about 8 minutes of material. There’s no question that it’s a beautiful set of chords with an affecting melody overtop. Mike Scheidt sings his heart out on it. Moodwise, it feels like a heavy ballad from the ’70s in the tradition of “Here Again” by Rush, “Parents” by Budgie, or Zep’s “No Quarter”. Those bands managed to say their piece in the space of 7 to 10 minutes; why couldn't Yob? Damn modern bands and their lack of self-editing. But “Marrow” develops beautifully and it does have enough content for what would have been a side-long epic back in olden times. It’s the most graceful song they’ve recorded, and when I hear the first few notes ring out, I know that I’m in for one of the year’s best pieces of music.