Bark Haze - Total Joke Era [Important - 2007]Sometimes the fact that a figure is such a ubiquitus prescense in the underground music community leads people to take their work for granted. Thurston Moore has performed on so many collaborations exclusive of his big time gig in Sonic Youth that it's sometimes difficult to keep up with the steady stream of releases. There's a varying level of success associated with them, mostly due to risk-taking performances.
Though Sonic Youth obviously play music which is based on structure, their music has always been shaped by a certain amount of improvisation. It makes sense that a lot of Thurston Moore's side projects give him more of a chance to explore improvisation in a chance-driven live context.
The Bark Haze, named for a mishearing of the sixties band the Bar-Kays, includes co-conspirator Andrew MacGregor, also known as Gown. Gown has most notably recorded with Christine Carter of the Charalambides. Total Joke Era consists of two pieces spread over roughly 35 minutes, the 11 minute Punchline 1 and the 24 and a half minute Punchline 2.
Attempting to encapsulate the sound of two guitar players improvising is a tricky proposition. Guitars are strummed, plucked, presumably turned upside down in front of the amp for feedback effect, and... just about anything that can be done to get sound out of a guitar.
The product of these sessions makes for enjoyable listening. There are several elements to this album. Effervescent drone passages remind me of another Important Records release, Tom Carter and Robert Horton's Lunar Eclipse. There's an expansive feel to some of this music which makes it almost psychedelic at times. There are also elements of noise, as well as scrapings and scrabblings which are most commonly associated with Avant improv.
The two players listen well to each other, and as a result have created a highly engaging album. One of the potential pitfalls of improv is that it can come across as dry and stuffy. Total Joke Era does not fall into that category. Both tracks are actually quite entertaining, particularly Punchline 2, which works up a hefty amount of steam. The piece smoothly changes direction throughout, providing plenty of detours for the mind to follow.
I have yet to hear the accompanying self-titled LP released concurrently with this CD, (also on Important Records), but I plan on seeking it out. Total Joke Era undoubtedly ranks high among Thurston Moore's side projects, and hopefully it will also bring a little deserved recognition to Gown. Erwin Michelfelder