01 October 2010

CD REVIEW: Goldbug - The Seven Dreams (2010, 1K Recordings)

The avant and improv music scene has a lot of great music coming out from it these days.  It is as vital and alive as ever.

One of my favourite new releases to come out of this style of music is The Seven Dreams, a new almost-EP length album by Goldbug, a collaborative project of Tim Motzer, chief cook and bottle washer for 1k records and a fairly prolific musician in his own right.  Goldbug is not a solo project, and Tim is not the lone musician heard here…he’s put together a pretty formidable group with which to realise these edgy, angular, cut up compositions.  While Motzer handles guitar, piano, keys and does some cool programming bits on laptop, Barry Meehan helps to hold down the bottom end with some occasionally funky and always fat bass licks.  He’s joined in the rhythm section by percussive wunderkind Eric Slick, whose resume barely needs mentioning…but of course you know this means I’ll be doing it anyway.  Slick’s worked with Adrian Belew, Project/Object, Paper Cat, Doctor Dog, and so on.  His chops are beyond compare…his use of restraint when needed almost more so. 

Finally, this quartet is rounded out by the world’s busiest rock and roll horn player, Theo Travis.  I don’t know when he sleeps, or if he even sleeps.  Between Gong, Soft Machine Legacy, Robert Fripp, the Tangent, his solo recordings, albums like this, sessions with Porcupine Tree, and so on, I think he’s decided to take a run at Tony Levin for most active progressive musician…and he’s doing a good job of it.

The Seven Dreams opens with a 1-minute long ambient piece called “Shadow Memory.”  It does a fine job of setting the scene, but it is really not a stand alone piece at all…usually I consider it a sort of prologue or prelude for the piece that follows.  Echoed cymbals and piano, weird guitar sounds, and so on lead in to “The Departure,’ a funky bass driven 3:44 rocker that focuses as much on Slick’s drumming and Meehan’s deep bass groves as it does on Motzer’s spacy guitar workouts.  Notes rise and fade, chords fly in at weird angles, and everything it tighter than…well…tighter than one of Eric Slick’s drumheads.  Fuzzed, sustained guitar notes remind of Robert Fripp, but this is no Crimson rehash whatsoever.

Things move along with “Unravelling,” a slightly less substantial piece in terms of length.  Just over 2 minutes long, this composition is far more keyboard driven, eerie and dark with warped bits of guitar adding a more surreal feel to things.  There’s structure here, but the piece feels heavily improvised.  Where “The Departure” had the feel of a rock song, this is space and improv territory fully.  It crossfades into “Scratching the Third Eye,” our first fully substantial and extended piece.  Clocking in at over 11 minutes in length, this is out first opportunity to feel and hear the band stretching out fully.  It starts slow, with loopy bass parts and slide guitar over a skittering, chopped up rhythm.  The piece gradually builds to more structured parts, with Barrett-esque glissando style guitar and bluesy slide over a skittering drum beat and thick bass.  One gets the feel of 1970 Pink Floyd in concert, exploring the sound field while thousands in the audience looked and listened on.  Impressive stuff, really.

We shift back to shorter forms for “Elevation,” a 4-minute long piece that carries on from “Third Eye.”  We hear some of the same bass grooves, scratching guitar singing a shattered, broken, wordless tune over top.  Travis’s sax is a lone voice of sanity in the midst of this musical maelstrom, barely heard, crying out from masses of synth and noise and processed sound.  It’s a cool juxtaposition, and it really helps to make the song.  The album moves on to the second extended composition, the 11 and a half minute “The Past is Still Present.”  This is, to my ears, a little better balanced a piece when compared to the other 11-minute track contained on this disc, but the differences are slight.  We get more sax, more space, more openness…yet all the common elements we’ve heard on this release thus far.  Meehan’s bass playing is as tight as ever, Slick’s percussive accents add more world flavour to things than straight kit playing would provide, and Motzer’s guitar and keyboard parts add the right amount of otherworldly zest to the track.  For something that most people would say is structureless and without melody, I hear plenty of both, and find this to be a fantastically compelling, yet chill, bit of music to listen to.

Goldbug’s debut release closes out with a shorter composition, the 5:16 “Persistence of a Memory.”  More ambient and soundscape-like, at least in the opening moments, Meehan’s bass adds warmth to the textures that Motzer creates.  Slick’s drumming is primarily on lower tuned instruments, mixed back, adding a slight pulse to things at first.  The track builds and grows slowly, drums rising in the mix organically, adding more structure and shape to the waves of guitar loop and synth swirl carrying the melodies.  The uplifting bit at the 4 minute mark, with flute and brighter synth tones, closes out the album on a fairly positive note, considering the darker, more angular material that preceded it.

This is a short album by anyone’s reckoning…its 7 tracks clock in at under 40 minutes.  But there’s a lot of music happening in those 40 minutes, and things are never staid and static for long.  This is challenging material that rewards an attentive listener with some very interesting musical gifts.  Is this for everyone?  Far from it!  Hell, it’s not something that’s for me every day.  But if you enjoy a good dose of darker, edgier, improv-esque music…or really miss what Crimson was doing with live improv from 1995-1996 or so (and believe me, I do!)…I think you’ll find The Seven Dreams to be right up your alley.

Track Listing:
Shadow Memory 0:58
The Departure 3:44
Unraveling 2:22
Scratching the Third Eye 11:18
Elevation 4:00
The Past is Still Present 11:28
Persistence of a Memory 5:16

Tim Motzer: guitar, keys, piano, laptop
Barry Meehan: bass, piano, voice
Eric Slick: drums, percussion, voice
Theo Travis: tenor saxophone, flute

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Anonymous said...

A big hello and congrats to Tim and the guys, from Dayton, where Tim helped form Ebbenflo!
Back then, Tim was writing spacy stuff, too, like "Altered States" and "Subway Run!"
"chief cook and bottle washer?"
What is that?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I remember Ebbenflo from Dayton, OH ... Tim Motzer played a cherry starburst Yamaha guitar through a space echo, and he sang some, too - didn't have a bad voice at all, either...
I didn't read here where there are any vocals or lyrics on "The Seven Dreams!"
Incidently, Ebbenflo's bassist, Jim Armstrong from Springboro, OH is in a band called 'Lithium Seven!' But they are not prog! (Not that Jim couldn't play prog!)
Did anyone besides me first see "Goldbud" instead of "Goldbug?"
Wait, I do see Barry and Eric listed as "voices" at the end, so maybe there are lyrics here, or harmonies at least ... I'd be curious to read any lyrics, too, on Goldbug...