Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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Different States of Hearing
          A review of Ramble Tamble / Them Natives / Isidro / Ant’Lrd
                                       
by Anthony Vacca
 
Music is transcendental. If this is a statement you don’t believe, then you should have borne witness to the August 5th show at the Forge, featuring Chicago-based act Ant’lrd—Colin Blanton of Birmingham originally—and New Orleans-based Isidro, as they headlined a show that couldn’t have been more aptly wrapped in a neat, thematic bow.
 
Setting the stage with their very first notes, local act Ramble Tamble, headed by guitarist Turner Williams, embarked the audience on an aural free-form sojourn conducted through the means of a Shahi Baaja—an electrically modified Indian banjo for those who don’t speak Hindi—with a backing of keyboards and drums, the latter manned especially for this particular event by none other than Blanton himself. The steady prog-rock percussion carries the listener through the first experimental jazzesque movement of their set, creating an over-all wavelength of synthesized effects and piercing whines from the Williams’ Shahi Bajaa. While Blanton effortlessly shifts back in forth in speed, never fully bringing the drumbeat to a stop and thus acting as the grounding factor of each section; Williams, on the other hand, transmogrifies his sound into a fuzzy wail à la Jimi Hendrix before making his instrument live up to its namesake by bringing the set to its climax with an eastern warble of strings. The listener is left with the image of some cyberized ceremony heard in passing through the haze of an acid-tinged gale.
 
Them Natives followed up with their by-a-thread song structures and 1960’s sensibility of the weird. Even though short a regular drummer, this local band played their chilled freak-out tunes, never sweating the loss for a discordant second. Starting off with a straight-ahead off-kilter rock and roll song, the band quickly throws the audience for a loop as they make an ethereal-paced transition into mystical territories by implementing an odds and ends assortment of instruments such as an autoharp, tambourines, maracas, a wooden flute, a nakara, a guiro, and a shruti box. The band weaves a tapestry of unearthly folk-pop songs, each showcasing ghostly sing-a-long harmonies and burial ground grooves. Them Natives seems to be a band concerned with the physical and spiritual procession of life, but don’t let this give you the impression that there is anything solemn about what they do. Them Natives go about their performance not so much as a band at work, but instead more akin to participants in a communal celebration of life, death, and, of course, music.
 
A ghost in the machine. This is the phrase that comes to mind after experiencing Isidro’s set. Entrenched behind a table strewn with boards and knobs emitting forth a piebald LED glow, Isidro Lanning Robinson harnesses his techno-wizardry to meld an over-all tone of the synthetic versus the organic. His music harkens back to the grit and gnashing teeth of late 1980’s electronic music, replete with motorized whirrs and beeps of industrial machinery. This is not to say that there is anything derivative about Isidro; his songs are uniquely characterized by his vocals, which alternate between low robotic moans to very-much alive echoed howls. It goes like this: Robinson lays down an initial beat on a board that then carries over into a loop throughout the length of each of his songs, lending a driving immediacy in direct opposition to the dissonant effects seeking to overshadow his grooves. It’s the beats that keep Isidro from an easy definition of Industrial music; they are like pulsing organs pressing through a metallic skin, urging the listener to understand that there is something very much alive beneath it all, something that can feel pain. 
 
It’s worth noting the difference of approach here with Ant’lrd, the headliner of the night, than with his predecessor. Blanton’s equipment is minimal, and he keeps it all close to himself, hunkered down above his boards and keyboard on the concrete floor of the Forge. The audience follows suit by huddling together and sitting with their legs crossed in front of him, as if the night has suddenly reached the moment of reflection through meditation. A soft churning of sounds continuously builds through his music. You hear pieces of songs, glimpses of commercials and television programs, snippets of half-heard conversations, all of this accumulating to an experience not unlike synesthesia. Blanton’s music is the sounds of the mind tirelessly working through a lifetime of auditory input, making associations through an ocean of memory that comes together in the synchronicity of a rhythm full of the foreboding reverb of ambience. It’s as if Blanton is beckoning the listener to cast aside notions of time, slip off the vestments of the self, and into the stream of a collective sound that is in and of itself a kind of beauty.
 
Earlier, this review spoke of sojourns, and if you wonder whether such a term carries any weight in describing the night, then you need only have seen the audience as they stood up to leave following Ant’lrd’s performance. After such a myriad of stylistic excursions, the audience made its way home that night talking of a particular feeling of calmness and ease. The word they were looking for is catharsis.