by Ian Mann
October 02, 2020
The trio’s open mindedness, allied to their distinctive, possibly unique, instrumental line up, gives Blueblut a sound that is very much their own, and one that they are still continuing to develop.
(Plagdichnicht Records PDN040)
Pamelia Stickney – theremin, Chris Janka – guitar, Mark Holub – drums
“Andenborstengurteltier” is the third album release by the Vienna based trio Blueblut, following in the wake of “Hurts So Gut” (2014) and the excellent “Butt Butt” (2016).
The group’s American born drummer, Mark Holub, is probably the best known of the trio to British audiences, thanks to his work at the helm of the remarkable Led Bib for the last fifteen years or so. Led Bib remains a going concern and the group’s exploits, both live and on disc have been regularly documented on the Jazzmann web pages over the years. The site has also covered his collaborations with saxophonist Colin Webster, either as a duo or as a trio with the addition of former Led Bib keyboardist Toby McLaren. Tim Owen also covered a 2010 performance at The Vortex by Mustard Pie, an all star aggregation that featured the rhythm sections of Led Bib (Holub and Liran Donin) and Polar Bear (Sebastian Rochford and Tom Herbert) fronted by the saxophone of Jan Kopinski (Pinski Zoo).
Holub left London for Vienna in 2012 and quickly forged links with local musicians, among them theremin specialist Pamelia Stickney and guitarist, sonic experimenter and studio owner Chris Janka. Blueblut was originally assembled in 2013 for a one off festival appearance, but the rapport generated by the trio was such that they agreed to continue their experiments, documenting their music on “Hurts So Gut”, recorded at the studio in Janka’s basement. Since making the move to Austria Holub has also released the excellent duo album “Taschendrache” (Slam Records, 2015), recorded with violinist Irene Kepl. Review here;
In November 2014 Blueblut undertook a tour of the UK in support of their début album and rather improbably played a gig in the small Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle, where Stickney has family connections. As a long term admirer of Holub’s work with Led Bib and others I decided to check them out and was delighted that I did so. Blueblut’s blend of jazz improvisation, electronica and avant rock proved to be a heady brew, a sonic cocktail further enlivened by a refreshingly irreverent slice of musical humour.
Stickney, previously known as Pamelia Kurstin, is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading theremin players whose credits include work with David Byrne, Yoko Ono, Grace Jones and jazz saxophonists John Zorn and Arthur Blythe, in addition to a well established solo career. She also appears in director Hans Fjellestadt’s 2004 film “Moog”, a celebration of the life and work of Bob Moog, inventor of the synthesiser but also a champion of the theremin. Stickney has also performed with the Danish guitarist and composer Jakob Bro and has worked regularly in a duo with the British drummer and composer Sebastian Rochford, the pair releasing the album “Ouch Evil Slow Hop” on Slowfoot Records in 2011. Tim Owen’s review of this recording can be read here;
As a guitarist, producer and the owner of his own Janka Industries studio Chris Janka is involved in a myriad of musical projects, including the avant pop quartet Tankris. He is also something of an inventor, both musical and otherwise. The least known of the trio to British audiences he has been described as a “Viennese Caractacus Potts figure with a basement studio to rival Peter Blake’s”. As well as performing on the new album as a guitarist Janka also recorded, engineered and mastered the record.
“Andenborstengurteltier” is named after the Andean hairy armadillo, a suitably quirky title that reflects the band’s approach; one which includes humour and irreverence as vital components of a music that incorporates influences from jazz, avant rock and electronica to create a unique and highly exciting group sound.
“Andenborstengurteltier” was conceived as a two sided LP, with side one comprised of seven mainly short pieces recorded at Jankas’s studio, while side B features four rather more extended performances documented during the group’s 2018 tour of Japan.
This album must have one of the longest single word titles in recorded history. But it’s very Blueblut that the title track, a mere forty two seconds in duration, should also be one of the shortest. It features the band making the most of the rhythmic possibilities of the word “Andenborstengurteltier”, taking it in turns to speak the word, with their vocal inflections answered by volleys of sound from Holub’s drums, and occasionally from Janka’s guitar.
The quirkiness continues with the bird whistles heard on “s’Vogerl”, these presumably generated by Stickney’s theremin. These whimsical episodes, which also feature absurdly mannered guitar, are punctuated by savage bursts of math rock thrash and passages that find Stickney conjuring deliciously filthy and sinister sounds from the theremin, gleefully subverting all the horror movie clichés.
“Spoolingame” clocks in at forty three seconds, a compendium of electronically generated sounds that variously recall the scratching of DJs, the electronic bleeps of arcade games, the vigorous rubbing of a balloon and assorted animal noises.
This all acts as a prelude to the near seven minute “Gnu”, the longest and most substantial of the studio recordings. Here jagged, metallic guitar riffing and odd meter drum grooves combine with doomy, low register theremin generated timbres to produce a thoroughly compelling slice of avant rock that is apocalyptic in its power and scope, with a furious, high octane ‘thrash’ section featuring towards the close.
“Tunada” is a short duet (one and a half minutes) for guitar and theremin, with the eerie timbres of the latter combining effectively with the subtly manipulated sounds of Janka’s guitar. The effect is spooky and unsettling, a little like the incidental music from “Twin Peaks”.
“Woodhorser” teases the audience, with the album packaging promising a guest appearance by a mysterious character called “The Woodpecker”. This, however, is not a person but instead one of Janka’s numerous invented instruments, one of many among the “Totally Mechanised Midi-Orchestra” that he has created. The curious are directed towards http://www.midi-orchestra.net to find out more.
The distinctive staccato percussive sounds of “The Woodpecker” can be heard towards the end of a track that also features the comparatively more mainstream sounds of guitar, drums and theremin in a layered, riff based piece that steadily accrues a growing power and menace, eventually incorporating “The Woodpecker”, before handing over to it completely.
“Red Zep” completes the studio side, the title possibly a reference to Holub’s acknowledged admiration for the late John Bonham. That said the music doesn’t really sound anything like the Led Zeppelin drummer’s old band as Stickney’s theremin sketches woozy klezmer / cabaret style melodies, underscored by Janka’s jaunty guitar strumming. However In true Blueblut fashion it then explodes into vigorous riff based ‘rock’ sections, with Holub playing with his customary power and precision.
The live side commences with “Miyazaki”, named after a species of mango. The performance begins with an ambient, drifting passage that includes the spacey sounds of electronica, possibly sampled from Janka’s Midi Orchestra. Holub later establishes a rolling, polyrhytmic drum groove which underpins Stickney’s crazed theremin improvisations as the mood changes and the music becomes more powerful, uncompromising and aggressive, before eventually fading away once more.
Similarly “Okayama”, presumably named after the city, emerges from eerie, ambient beginnings but subsequently develops to embrace an excoriating power with the abrasive sounds of Stickney’s theremin, allied to Janka’s guitar FX, again buoyed by the rolling thunder of Holub’s drumming. This is space rock for grown ups, probably largely improvised, and at one point seeming to threaten some kind of coming apocalypse. This is a near eight minute epic, which sees the band’s fury temporarily dissipate, before rising once more in a riff based closing section.
“Detunada live in Fukuoka” combines off kilter riffs and grooves with soaring theremin improvisations. An effervescent character Stickney is a far more dominant figure in the live environment, effectively functioning as the ‘principal soloist’ on these live performances. The studio side is more whimsical and experimental, with studio owner Janka arguably the most prominent figure.
The closing “Buttoven live in Fukuoka” references the famous “Ode to Joy” melody from Ludwig’s ninth, but is still primarily another riff fest with Janka’s jagged guitar riffing linking in with Holub’s muscular drum grooves. I’ve written before of Stickney’s ability to play bass lines on the theremin and I suspect that there’s some evidence of this here. Tightly interwoven lattices of sound again recall latter day King Crimson, an observation I’ve also made previously when writing about the trio’s previous albums and “Butt Butt” in particular. Once more Blueblut exhibit something of Crimson’s apocalyptic power, and they are rewarded with a suitably enthusiastic response from their Japanese audience. However, unlike Crimson, Blueblut leaven their music with a welcome dash of humour and irreverence, as evidenced by their hi-jacking of Beethoven here, possibly as some kind of pro EU statement.
That humour also infiltrates other areas of the album, notably on the whimsical “S’Vogerl” and “Red Zep”, and the two brief sub one minute episodes of “Spoolingame” and the title track – shades here of the sonic fragments bookending Gong’s “Camembert Electrique”.
Blueblut’s Bandcamp page states;
“jazz improvised music indie pop industrial rock prog rock Vienna”
which seems to sum things up rather nicely. There is so much going in the trio’s music, with the undoubted skills of the players being harnessed in an almost punk like manner. There’s a real DIY spirit and a sense of sometimes childish irreverence about Blueblut, yet their willingness to experiment and their adoption of a ‘what if’ attitude in the studio owes more to jazz, and even prog.
The trio’s open mindedness allied to their distinctive, possibly unique, instrumental line up gives Blueblut a sound that is very much their own, and one that they are still continuing to develop. This is music that combines an awesome power with moments of whimsicality and often pure silliness. It all makes for an intoxicating mix, and this is a group that never be accused of taking itself too seriously, despite making some seriously uncompromising music.
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