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Chef Menteur, "The Answer's in Forgetting"

Chef Menteur’s second full length retains the sense of a group setting obscure crossword clues while working out what their equipment will do. The sound is deeper and tighter but doesn’t completely abandon post-space-drone- audio-collage.

 

Backporch Revolution

Alec Vance and Jim Yonkus remain from Chef Menteur’s 2005 debut, We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire. That’s all well and good, but Dan Haugh’s drumming and (on one track) Brian Abbott’s banjo and sitar, bring fresh energy and discipline into the mix. Not that either of them seems responsible for the biggest surprise: the first bars of this album feature Vance simply strumming an acoustic guitar. Given the band’s previous catalogue and performances it’s as unlikely an opening as if they’d covered “Do You Think I’m Sexy?”

However, The Answer’s in Forgetting does not completely kick out the jams. “Parasitic Oscillation” goes back and forth between darkness and nothingness in a pointless manner before providing perfect contrast to ”Tonalli,” which swings in on percussive breaks and a lovely piano figure. “1491” scorches along like the comet of that year which came closer to Earth than any other. Again the track provides neat contrast when it bleeds into “I.E.D.,” a Mogwai-esque excursion that shows the benefit of Haugh’s dynamics and actual melody in the guitar lines. If they keep this up they’ll write an actual song with verses and a chorus!  As if to scratch that thought, the subdued drone of “Goodbye Callisto” follows— an ode to sandals, a nymph, a moon, or more likely a tribute to Xena’s nemesis. “OT III” ends the disc in a brief punchy swirl of banjo, sitar and synth which perhaps references the band’s “Oceanic 23” track from a WTUL radio compilation, or not.

Some of the pieces here rival Chef Menteur’s finest earlier track “W.A.S.T.E.” which used the voices of New Orleans trash collectors as the basis of a sublimely rhythmic nod to Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.  Given a pleasing penchant for the obscure it can only be a matter of time before they title a piece “Remembering the Octahedron”.

For now the band eschew lyrics but, given that they (or possibly just Vance) enjoy linguistic puzzles and literary references, that too could change. Best keep a dictionary handy, anyway, as they understand the value and fun of naming a track “Trebuchet” rather than, say, “Shoebox Diorama.” With The Answer’s in Forgetting and Potpie’s Potpie Plays the Classics the back porch revolution continues to gain momentum.

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The Eye: Video of the Day

Andreas Martin

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Review of the Day

Biosphere, "Autour de la Lune"
Touch
Geir Jenssen lives in a different world. From his Artic Circle perch the man called Biosphere is building a body of work as iconoclastic as Aphex Twin, with as much eerie remove and accidental influence. Albums like Patashnik and Substrata are landmarks in ambient music not because they spawned a million rip-offs but because they work within a recognizable stylistic blueprint to create absolutely alien music, threatening total immersion to even the most cautious of "background" listeners. Jenssen's last, 2002's Shenzhou found him treading further towards alienating extremes, something like a pitch-black homage to Debussy, with orchestra samples stretched thin and opaque across an ocean of icy, crevice-filled ambience (in other words, what we all wished Drukqs had been). Autour, commissioned by French radio last year, not only rejects anything close to a wide "radio" audience, but it is by far the most trying Biosphere release thus far, with Jenssen moving past the beat-less transparencies begun with Substrata and into a harsh meditation on deep-space, a 74-minute confined drift that begins well into the air-less upper regions and does not conclude until positioned hopelessly within a dimensionless dump-off on the darker side of some heavenly body. Occupying a third of the disc's length, the opening "Translation" acts like the final kiss-off to Earth and the earthen sounds that often find a place in Biosphere music. A rebus of plastic tones, entwined with enough care to erase all human touch, becomes a sky-like ceiling with which groaning engine sounds and whining drones struggle in a pitiless slipping, past the threshold and into the heart of Autour. Apart from a track or two based around a few distorted samples from a 60s radio dramatization of Jules Verne's De la Terre à la Lune (the "focus" of the 2003 commission) and actual recordings of MIR astronauts, the majority of the disc develops a vacuous, unsettling atmosphere made up of seriously subsonic bass frequencies and shrill, synthetic tones dividing and encasing the deliberate arcs and hidden textures of each of the nine "movements." By the sixth track, "Circulaire," the trip has arrived at a false ending of sorts, an off-putting climax where the piece grounds out to two dissenting sounds, one a near-inaudible below-bass pulse and the other the sinister calm of a solid flatline. From this remote place, more Onkyo than Eno, Jenssen really has nowhere to drift except slowly back towards the beginning, to the lush plasticities of "Trombant," almost coming full circle on the opening track but stopping short, allowing melody and lush texture enough footing only to remind us of what has been left behind. Melodies emerge, like the aimless cosmonaut voice samples, as if beamed from a great distance, light years into the black, like ghosts of a human presence long since abandoned. Autour is not easy listening, and if it doesn't stand as the most returnable place in the Biosphere catalog, it's only because Jenssen has never sounded so remote and thoroughly haunting.

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