by Ian Mann
July 06, 2016
An impressive second outing from this unique trio. I love this band for its energy and irreverence as well as for its undoubted musical skill.
(Plagdichnicht Records PDN030)
“Butt Butt” is the second album by the Vienna based trio Blueblut which features Led Bib drummer Mark Holub alongside theremin virtuoso Pamelia Stickney (nee Kurstin) and guitarist and sound artist Chris Janka.
In November 2014 Blueblut undertook a tour of the UK in support of their début album “Hurts So Gut” 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.
American born Holub left London for Vienna in 2012 and quickly forged links with local musicians, among them theremin specialist Stickney and guitarist, sonic experimenter and studio owner Janka. Blueblut was originally assembled 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 a début album recorded at the studio in Janka’s basement. Although a little too self indulgent on occasions “Hurts So Gut” nevertheless exhibited great promise and the trio’s live performances were little short of extraordinary with Stickney’s virtuoso theremin playing a particularly distinctive component.
“Butt Butt” is leaner and more focussed than its immediate predecessor, clocking in at around thirty five minutes and exhibiting a harder hitting sound with a real punk/ indie rock sensibility pervading several of the pieces. This is typified by the opening piece “Rohaut” with its punchy rock grooves and song-like structure. Although none of the group members is actually a singer Blueblut like to make use of the human voice in their recordings. Here the sampled voices of saleroom auctioneers (and the occasional farmyard animal) weave their way through the track- presumably these are the guest vocalists listed on the album packaging – J.Graves, R.L. Wallace and S.Liptay. Besides the voices the chunky riffing is also enlivened by the shrieks and wails of Stickney’s theremin. Incidentally I seem to remember Janka triggering the same ‘auctioneers’ sample at Bishop’s Castle.
As one of the world’s pre-eminent theremin players Stickney has carved out new territory for her instrument, moving it far away from the clichés of the horror movie, although her playing can still be pretty scary at times. As witnessed at Bishop’s Castle she is capable of generating walking bass lines on the instrument as well as adding wild Hendrix like improvisations to the Blueblut sound. Her solo shows also find her deploying looping technology to create her own ‘theremin orchestra’. Stickney’s unique talents have led to collaborations with a diverse range of artists across a variety of musical genres, among them David Byrne, John Zorn, Yoko Ono, Grace Jones and Arthur Blythe. Her 2011 duo album with British drummer Sebastian Rochford “Ouch Evil Slow Hop” was favourably reviewed on these pages by Tim Owen and it was to be Rochford who first introduced Stickney to Holub (the two drummers had previously worked together in the short lived group Mustard Pie).
“Something Has To Happen Somewhere” is more loosely structured but equally compelling as the ethereal sound of Stickney’s theremin is punctuated by avant rock snarls allied to lighter, quirkier episodes featuring Janka’s jazzy guitar chording. But overall the mood is dark, intense and unsettling, the sensibility still more rock than jazz despite the improvisational elements. One also senses that this piece would make an excellent movie soundtrack.
The forty five second “Inka Bier” is one of Blueblut’s little indulgences as Janka’s infant son Morris gleefully sings what I assume to be a traditional Austrian drinking song. This quickly segues into the monstrous riffing of “Sausverkauf” with its dirty metallic sounds, wailing theremin and brutal drumming, Holub in particular seems to relish the rock elements of Blueblut’s music. Sampled voices, this time uncredited, again find their way into the mix but overall this is heavy stuff, scary but exhilarating. It’s a glorious racket of the kind that Larks Tongues era King Crimson might have been proud of.
The ebullient “Butt Shop” is two and a half minutes of complex but joyous riffing around two separate motifs. It’s fiendishly tricky stuff but the band race through it with characteristically good humour. The filthy raspberry sound that temporarily punctuates the piece offers ample evidence that this isn’t a band that takes itself too seriously. Presumably this is the piece that is supposed to be inspired by a cowboy hoe-down. Instead it reminds me of Crimson’s “Groon”.
“Schmutzenbart” emerges from a forest of electronic and found sounds and features the contrasting German language vocals of Willi Landl and rapper MC Rhine. I don’t understand a word of it, but that doesn’t matter, the irreverence of the piece shines through loud and clear and the instrumental backing is terrific with plenty of sonic detail to interest the non German speaking listener.
“Twientown”, the lengthiest cut on the album, introduces another instrumental voice with the addition of guest trumpeter Thomas Berghammer. This episodic piece juxtaposes spooky atmospherics and furious math rock riffing with Berghammer’s trumpeting showing not just the obvious influence of electric era Miles Davis but also that of more contemporary trumpet improvisers such as the Vietnamese American Cuong Vu. He blends in just fine with Blueblut’s unique sound world.
The album closes with another forty five second snippet titled “Some Jazz Has To Happen Somewhere”. Here Blueblut send up the jazz clichés as Stickney’s theremin plays the melody above the exaggeratedly ‘jazzy’ guitar chords and brushed drums. “Great, now we can trade fours” declares Holub to the amusement of his colleagues before the track fades out abruptly.
“Butt Butt” is an impressive second outing from this unique trio. Of course Stickney’s theremin is the most distinctive instrumental component with its screams, wails, siren sounds, glitches and more but she so avoids the theremin clichés that it’s like listening to a whole new instrument. Janka also makes a huge contribution as both a guitarist and a producer, his playing encompassing a wide stylistic range and fulfilling several different musical functions. Meanwhile Holub really drives the band with his powerful but multi faceted drumming that draws heavily upon his rock background in addition to his jazz honed technique.
Together the three members of Blueblut make a great team and despite the occasional indulgence (fewer this time) I love this band for its energy and irreverence as well as for its undoubted musical skill. This is the sound of musicians having ‘serious fun’ and relishing every moment of it. For all its complexities “Butt Butt” is an album with a ‘punk’ attitude and one which sounds all the better for it. It’s an album that’s probably more likely to appeal to adventurous rock listeners than dyed in the wool jazz fans but anybody who has enjoyed Holub’s work with Led Bib should be able to appreciate it.
Blueblut recently performed at the LUME Festival in London but unfortunately it doesn’t look as if they’re due to be in the UK any time again soon. They are, however, due to tour the East Coast of the USA in September 2016. Please visit http://www.blueblut.net for further information about the band and their activities.
blog comments powered by Disqus