Cakewalk - Transfixed [Hubro - 2013]Psychedelic and krautrock label Hubro have released a number of quality 70's flavored instrumental albums in recent years, including such artists as Bly de Blyant and Astro Sonic. Norweigen improvisatory trio Cakewalk's Hubro debut "Wired" came out in 2012, and this, "Transfixed", is their second album. This is my first experience with the band.
Compared to the jazz inflected, non-repetitive music of Bly de Blyant, this album has a straightforward post rock sound, with a sense of melody and mood indicating that they listen to the genre's most legendary figures like Sigur Ros or Godspeed You Black Emperor, as well as post metal like Neurosis and Isis, and some shoegaze like MBV or Stereolab. They certainly don't have near the vision or melodicism of these groups, however, despite the surface similarity of sound.
The band likes to settle into a short, ostinato like riff, and chug on that texture for many minutes. The short riff itself is sometimes syncopated or odd, and though it starts to sound more normal after a couple of minutes, it doesn't always find much of a groove. In most songs, a single lead melody or chord progression, which itself stretches for several bars, is repeated for the entire duration of the track. The playing builds energy, but never do we get to hear any kind of transition from one idea to another. These are single idea compositions; the first track "Ghosts" is the longest at 8 minutes, and hardly changes.
The album isn't produced well, which lessens the hypnotic effect of its droning. It sounds thin, as if the sound sources were too far from the microphones, or simply recorded in a garage. The band's greatest mistake, perhaps, is using cheap, bright and obnoxious preset synth textures as the lead instrument in tracks like "Bells". I'm reminded of many a canned 80's film score.
Despite the fact that the music is focused on an ebb and flow of energy, the endings of several tracks simply cut, like a switch being flipped. The songs would naturally assume the roles of movements in a larger, ongoing story if not for the abruptness of these transitions.
"Transfixed", the 3rd track, is the first on the album that I truly enjoy. It sounds like a totally different band than the sensitive/emotive textured chug of the 1st two numbers, bringing a surprisingly sludgy, low and mean doom metal rhythm anchored by fuzzed out bass. Rather than strum dreaming chords, the guitarist shreds absolute noise, which becomes shrieking trebly feedback by the end.
The 4th piece "Swarm" deviates again by starting with 2 minutes of hushed acoustic strums with a high pitched, pure quality that is harplike. Unexpectedly, the band lurches into a full power jam out with a volley of alternating bass notes, shredding solos and drum fills. Their energy is convincing here, and it's easy to tell they'd be a great live band.
"Dive" is an eerie, understated 'cave ambient' piece not unlike the music of Nurse With Wound. It's mixed quieter than the rest of the album, which means some of its detail is lost unless the volume knob is adjusted, but I still thoroughly enjoy it. With a distant howling of abused violins, it's a good compliment to the rock oriented material.
The closer "Dunes" keeps the slower beat that dominates most of the album's 2nd half, opening with a rhythm that could be played to dictate an army's march across a desert. The synth chords that enter match perfectly with this anticipatory, cinematic feeling as well. Though still lo fi in sound, all the elements of this track are classic ambient, and would fit perfectly in an action adventure film.
It's hard to know what to make this of album, a collection of pleasant but unamazing experiments with different established idioms of psychedelic/kraut/post rock jamming. In post rock, a genre about build ups, momentum and eventual resolution, I feel it's important to have a destination in mind, something this band seems to consistently lack. Rather than structuring their album as a loose-knit compilation of repetitive sketches, it may have made more sense to combine them into some kind of lengthy, narrative epic, as influences such as Godspeed have done. In minimalist performances such as this one, I typically focus my attention on rich instrument tones, but they are nowhere to be found here. All in all, it's a valiant effort that shows creativity and potential in a number of areas, but lacks the focus to excel in any one of them too spectacularly, or cohere into much of anything memorable as a whole.Josh Landry