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Astral Social Club, "Neon Pibroch"

Neal Campbell continues his strong run of releases as Astral Social Club. This album should satisfy fans of his impressive back catalogue, but the music here is good enough to deserve separate treatment and should not be caged in by references to the past.


"Tripel Foment" begins similarly to Campbell's other experiments in ambient beatscapes. A bassy, four-on-the-floor techno pluse pushes the track along pleasantly. But the track becomes compelling when he ditches that rhythm and lets his sounds fly untethered. The song keeps its momentum as scraps of sound detritrus float over the mix like luminous insects. At 12 minutes, the pitch bends up sharply as the song hits its crescendo. A looped guitar riff breaks in while a tremeloed static whirls in the foreground, carrying the beat for a few more minutes till a sudden and jolting rest ends the song.

The rest of the album lacks the percussive backbone which holds up "Tripel Foment," but they hold their own unhurried vitality. The title track meanders for more half its length before finding critical mass. Reversed chime swells and subdued guitar picking float lazily into a thicket of resonate beeps and flanged bellowing. The signal processing fights against this dense buildup, diluting the racket until it becomes a limp mass, percolating into gradual silence. "Big Spree" has the same meditative pacing, being built around a cloudy snyth drone peppered with icy, ringing tones that build into a snow storm of radiant sound particulate.

As detailed as each composition on this record is, they are certainly not fast paced. No song here is under 12 minutes, but Campbell is not the kind of musician that mistakes subtlety for monotony. Stale sounds are gently taken away from the mix or processed into something entirely different. The basic components are very simple: a three note guitar figure; pieces of static; some bells and chimes. Isolated from the whole they would sound thin and artificial, but within the tightly wound arrangements of this album they take on a cosmic immensity.




Review of the Day

spring heel jack, "masses"
Those who have followed Spring Heel Jack's evolution from day one through last year's collaboration with Low and the Disappeared LP think they might have been prepared for what was next, right? Perhaps. Last year the Blue Series from Thirsty Ear surfaced with The Matthew Shipp Quartet's album, 'Pastoral Composure', this year Shipp and an extended family have been paired up with the former early drum 'n bass champions, Spring Heel Jack for the continuum of the Blue Series. While 'Masses' is a wonderful marriage of jazz instrumentalists with a tiny bit of electronic contributions, I somewhat question the SHJ label for the project. Perhaps it's political, perhaps it's there to try to introduce the SHJ fans to a more organic live sound than what the SHJ followers are used to. It's a blend of form and function: within the confines of ten tracks, there's a little bit of electronic noise, screechy horns, tinkling pianos, muted swing horns in sultry retro-art deco interludes, boppin jam sessions, and moods created for sadness, longingness and joy. Could this be the new direction of jazz? (Combining organic instrumental improvisationalists with established electronica tweakers?) Maybe not, but this all the while is an enjoyable listen and never drags on too long or becomes too obnoxious and must be turned off.



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