Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Reviewed by: Tim Owen
Guest artist Jim O' Rourke adds a new layer of detail and textural coloration to the mix, and finer gradations of tension to a group dynamic that gains heft and clarity of purpose as a result.
When I reviewed Swedish supergroup Fire!s’ début for the Jazz Mann two years ago, the strap-line read “A strong blueprint for the future”; so I’m pleased to report that their second effort, “Unreleased?” convincingly builds on that blueprint, with the earlier album’s eclecticism having been chiselled into something more streamlined and substantial. “Unreleased?” is a live document, recorded in guest artist Jim O’Rourke’s adopted home town of Tokyo over two nights in 2010. O’Rourke’s production skills – he’s as renowned as a producer as a performer, his most high profile jobs in either enterprise being for Sonic Youth – have not been called upon. One Håkan Åkesson deserves all credit for the richly nuanced mix. O’Rourke fits right in with Mats Gustafsson (baritone saxophone, live electronics, Fender Rhodes), Johan Berthling (electric bass), and Andreas Werliin (drums and percussion), adding electric guitar, synthesizer and harmonica to their arsenal. He adds a new layer of detail and textural coloration to the mix, and finer gradations of tension to a group dynamic that gains heft and clarity of purpose as a result.
Track one of four, “are you both still unreleased?” is a slow burner dominated by Andreas Werliin’s tight-but-loose drumming. As electronic interference disturbs a low, possibly bowed bass thrum, Gustafsson methodically chews over a head melody, becoming increasingly bullish even as the rhythm momentarily ebbs. There’s a sense of calm before a storm, but the track retains its lowering density as O’Rourke’s electric guitar subtly plays off against the saxophone. The guitar becomes a unifying thread in the mix and eventually supplants the horn as the melodic lead, cutting loose against a pattern of cymbal washes just as the track peaks and fades. Fortunately “…please, I am released” fades sharply up into the snappy urgency of a bass/drums pulse spiked with feedback, and works up a similar vibe. Gustafsson on Rhodes blends nicely with O’Rourke’s guitar, but when he picks the sax back up the rhythm becomes restless and increasingly intense. An undercurrent of subtle electric guitar builds until O’Rourke, worrying persistently at a single note, worms his way to the fore in a climax. The track peaks and lulls before a coda which levels things out, and the bands’ collective relaxation is tangible.
At only three minutes long, “by whom and why am I previously unreleased?” is a static interlude of impressionistic cymbal and sticks work, phuttering baritone, and irregular bass reverb, across all of which O’Rourke, on harmonica, solos in abstract, Morricone-tinged style. This track fades straight into the intro to the 17 minute long “happy ending borrowing yours”, a miasma of electricity and airy percussion that gathers density once Gustafsson’s electronics are added to the brew. Werliin corrals the divergent strains of distortion into one singularity, but a breakdown at the five minute mark leaves just Berthling’s pulse. Now it’s the bassist’s turn to act as a conduit for a drum rhythm to build and guide the way forwards. A bruised, bluesy stomp develops, atop which O’Rourke wrangles fragmentary, patternless guitar solos. Gustafsson’s sax creeps into the mix, enough to up the ante considerably. He’s soon loosing muscular, strangulated baritone cries into the mix, but O’Rourke’s re-entry unexpectedly takes the heat out, and soon there’s nothing audible but a backbeat and grainy electronics. After a slow diminuendo the pulse is all that’s left.
Where Fire!’s début album, ‘You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago’, was a great success in merging the main players solo identities in an effective collective endeavour, their external concerns (Gustafsson’s The Thing, Berthling’s Tape, Werliin‘s Wildbirds & Peacedrums; though all three also play in various other contexts) were all still somehow still evident in the mix. O’Rourke’s presence bonds them into a more singular unity, with the result that although ‘Unreleased?’ somewhat lacks the variety of the earlier album, it more than compensates with a more concrete impact borne of a unity of conception and purpose.
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