Hedvig Mollestad Trio - Ding Dong, You're Dead [Rune Grammofon - 2021]
Jazz/blues crossover guitarist Hedvig Mollestad returns to one of her most beloved lineups, the Hedvig Mollestad Trio, for a new album titled Ding Dong, You're Dead! in 2021. Queen of blistering odd-metered shred, the album is full of her signature fuzz tone wailing over off-kilter scalar patterns and chunky head riffs not unlike 70's classic prog-rock groups, particularly King Crimson.
The album's opening riff is part "21st Century Schizoid Man" and part "Red", recalling Fripp's clever chord choices as well as the far-out, alien mood of his music. Mollestad takes you on a gliding desert trip, the chorused and thick tone of her distortion washing comfortably into the corners and crevices of the sound space. Her style is not extremely flashy in terms of speed, though it's clear the technique is there, but rather focused on the colours and emotions of each melodic turn of phrase.
With its meandering sojourn feeling, it is at heart psychedelic jam rock (as shown by the song title "Magic Mushroom"). free from specific thematic and linguistic associations, and thus free to travel wherever into the mind it chooses. Some of the album's best moments are the impromptu feeling solos, astoundingly tuneful in the case of pieces like "All Flights Cancelled", where the 'singing' quality of the guitar is beautifully poignant.
Titular "Ding Dong, You're Dead" actually reminds me of something from Tool's Lateralus, an ambient picked clean riff that undulates and bubbles patiently, summoning a kind of ambient realm around it, with a minimalist tribal drum sound. The patient post-rock sensibilities of this album do it credit, allowing the time to pass before the listener even realizes how absorbed they have become. This track stays ambient for nearly its entire 7 minutes, functioning as a moment to rest between stops on the journey.
Tool influence continues with the Adam Jones-esque "Gimbal", this time drawing from the band's heavier sounds, with swampy grunge energy. Mollestad is willing to play melodic lead where Jones never would, however, Jones' signature move being a noise solo with heavy effects. Mollestad's luminous, haunting leads have a bit of Mikael Akerfeldt's dark folk stylings in them, as well the revelatory zen moods and lush tones of Mahavishnu Orchestra, with a lot more tonal variety than Tool usually would employ.
Many of Mollestad's influences are close to my heart as well. Though many of the closest references to the sound of this album come from rock, careful examination reveals a busy, dynamic drumming style clearly rooted in fusion, and tight, complex unisons far beyond the level of typical improvisatory rock outfits. This outfit are masters of subtle complexity, putting the focus on the music's most accessible elements while filling out the extremities with accents and details.
Closer "Four Candles" is another ambient piece, reflective and warm. The empathic, nostalgic melancholy of this song is immediately affecting, seeming to change colours in front of me as it progresses. It may just be the best thing on the album.
In Mollestad's hands, 'blues' is an evocative, open-ended art form with plenty of room for expansion into diverse creative spaces. I am every bit as impressed with this new album as I was with 2019's Smells Funny. I could listen to hours of this guitarist's intuitive expressions.