Those Darn Gnomes - Calling Whitetails to a Tuned Bow [Nefarious Industries - 2019]I believe, that experimental avant-garde and improvisational music appeared a long time ago- Maybe a couple of hundred years ago. But the key developments occurred with the introduction of jazz, musique concrete, and experimental electronics, around the middle of the 20th century. Currently, there are a lot of bands and artists, to one degree or another, using these styles in their work.
The American band Those Darn Gnomes, based in San Diego, is one of the representatives of the avant-garde music scene, mixing free jazz, avant-garde, and quite heavy guitars. Their first full-length album The Years, was released in 2015, as self-release. In 2016, the second full-length album entitled The Zodiac was released. in 2017, Those Darn Gnomes participated in two compilations. Then, in the same year, the band released an EP called Peeling. It should be said that the main line-up consists of four musicians - Mark Steuer, Christian Molenaar, Russell Case, and Bryon Wojciechowski. For studio recordings and performances, they invite session musicians, the number of which can be quite large.
In 2019, American label Nefarious Industries released Those Darn Gnomes' third full-length album Calling Whitetails to a Tuned Bow. It was released as a CD and digital version. Both options are available for ordering on the label's website and the Bandcamp page, as well as on the Bandcamp page of the band.
The album cover is a very interesting collage. The background is a photo of the cosmos or nebula (perhaps this is something else, but it seemed to me that this is exactly a cosmic photo). Against this background is the image of a leather mask that copies a human face. The mask has large holes for the mouth and eyes. It seems that this mask is screaming. Two female hands pull the mask down and the mask starts to burst. The collage is made in yellow, brown and greenish tones that will bring vintage to the picture. There are no inscriptions on the cover. On the whole, I’d say this is successful artwork- as it simultaneously represents both chaos and emptiness, which fits the musical part of the album well.
The album, with a total duration of slightly less than forty-one minutes, consists of four tracks of approximately the same length. All compositions are designed in the same way, so it’s better to talk about the album as a whole, not dwelling on individual tracks.
Immediately it should be said that in addition to the four main participants, thirteen invited musicians took part in the recording. It is almost an orchestra consisting of strings, winds, brasses, keyboards and percussion instruments. Before this album, I was not familiar with Those Darn Gnomes music, but the list of musical instruments and the style of the group brought to mind the Japanese band Kôenji Hyakkei. However, I heard not quite what I expected. Undoubtedly, Those Darn Gnomes music is influenced by Kôenji Hyakkei and Ruins, as well as by some John Zorn's projects, but all this is supported by a large proportion of electronics, noise, and a rather heavy guitar sound. Inexperienced listeners may seem that there reigns the sound chaos, but each composition has a clear structure. The chaotic improvisational parts alternate with musical lines close to Zeuhl, or atmospheric acoustic parts close to ambient. Moreover, improvisation plays a major role in each of these parts. It seems to me that, just like in some works of John Zorn, there is a so-called controlled improvisation here. During a single composition, we can hear both extreme noise chaos and relatively rhythmic inserts and quiet atmospheric acoustic and keyboard passages. Unfortunately, the sound quality seemed to be far from ideal. The album turned out to be close to the Lo-Fi sound, so all this large number of used musical instruments turned into a sound mess. I don’t think that absolutely all instruments were used at the same time, however, in those pieces of the compositions where the greatest number of parts are played, I would like to hear a clearer sound. The main musical instruments here are drums, guitars, and vocals. This main sound line is supported by other musical instruments. It is worth praising the work of the drummer and bass player. Everything is played very technically, however, the overall sound quality does not fully evaluate their efforts. I really liked the work of the vocalist. The timbre of his vocals resembles a death / black metal style, but sometimes he uses a falsetto-like vocal, vaguely reminiscent of King Diamond. It also seemed to me that there were elements of field recordings and sound samples.
After listening to Calling Whitetails to a Tuned Bow I decided to get acquainted with the earlier albums of Those Darn Gnomes. And I realized that the Lo-Fi sound I didn’t like, was a crystal clear sound compared to the previous works of the band. Without going into details, I can only say that the previous albums had a dirtier sound.
Honestly, I didn’t like Calling Whitetails to a Tuned Bow at first. I was expecting something more progressive and exciting. I was a little bored during the first plays of the album. It seemed to me that the musicians simply gathered all their works in one album and added it with an arbitrary jam-sessions. However, during the re-plays, I felt the structures of the compositions and the intention of the project. Nevertheless, the idea itself, as well as its implementation, seemed to be a bit unmodified. Calling Whitetails to a Tuned Bow is certainly an interesting album, and will appeal to fans of free jazz, Zeuhl and avant-garde music in general. I hope that the next Those Darn Gnomes' album will have a clearer sound. And then, I'm sure I will enjoy it more.Sergey Pakhomov