Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Music Review: Supersilent - 10 / 11

There’s a good chance this review will run contrary to the majority of others out there—or at least the ones I’ve come across—but at the very least I think these two new Supersilent releases provide a convenient opportunity to ponder just what exactly it is we expect from this Norwegian avant-jazz institution and where they can possibly take their highly idiosyncratic music in the future. There is plenty to recommend in both these records mind you, but the divide between the two, at least on paper, wouldn’t at first blush seem so slim. The band’s official album of all new material, 10, is their stylistic return to form as a three-piece after the departure of drummer Jarle Vespestad and the transitional Hammond organ experiments of last year’s polarizing 9 (although chronologically, it was apparently recorded prior to 9). Supersilent 11, meanwhile, is a vinyl-only release comprised of six outtakes from the sessions that produced 2007s monumental 8, and yet of the two, this is the record that I continue to return to as well as find more intrinsically fascinating, both from a cerebral and—by dint of their recent output at least—nostalgic standpoint.

What these two records really reveal, however, is the importance of Vespestad to the Supersilent formula. On 10, the band’s remaining three members return to their customary instruments, but once again, instead of attempting to replace Vespestad with another percussionist, they’ve folded in various other acoustic instruments—most notably a grand piano—to round out the ensemble. Nevertheless, 10 is one of the band’s sparsest and most dreamy albums to date. It’s also pretty traditional as far as Supersilent albums go, emphasizing the jazzier aspects of their sound in lieu of the dynamic out-rock tantrums that have more often than not marked their best work. That’s not to say the band doesn’t turn out some wonderful material here: the back-to-back run of “10.5” and “10.6” in particular show off their uncanny ability at synthesizing ambient textures to flared jazz notation and meditative chamber interplay, respectively. Elsewhere, the Eastern-accented romance of “10.8” swells with pockets of negative space, highlighting Deathprod’s uniquely atmospheric and instantly identifiable production techniques. Still, I can’t shake the notion that this is just one side of the Supersilent aesthetic: hypnotic, fragile, very beautiful, and in this case, uncommonly accessible. It’s not one of their top tier records, but it’s a decent place for neophytes looking to begin their journey.

What’s slightly contradictory, then, is that 11 is pretty one dimensional in its own right, but it’s also quite a bit more interesting—though probably not something for the casual fan. It’s certainly no secret that 8 is something of a classic amongst experimental circles, so it begged to assume that the group, who improvise all their music, would have left some potentially intriguing material on the cutting room floor. The six pieces edited and collected here are of a spastic, free-rock variety, structurally loose but dynamically punctuated by four a member ensemble operating at the absolute peak of their powers. The energy of the sessions is palpable from the first crippled percussive drop, and despite not settling down for more than a few brief stretches throughout its brisk, 37-minute runtime (dig the aching, ethereal “11.5”), 11 is never less than fascinating. It’ll be interesting to see if the band can ever truly recapture the seemingly unconscious synergy of the 8 sessions, manifest here in the visceral cyborg assault of opener “11.1” and the unrelenting improv of 10-minute centerpiece “11.4” . In the past, their best work has been something of a combination of these two records, but until they can learn to reconcile these disparate tendencies into a single-minded whole, we’re bound to be left with one or the other. [72/100] [77/100] [Published 12.17.10]

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