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Blah Blah 666, "It's Only Life!"

cover image Pooling members from inside the Toronto improv scene, Blah Blah 666 remain an iconoclastic outfit. Their chosen name and album title belie their relaxed spontaneity. Starting with a straightforward overture featuring soft vocals and slide guitar, their music quickly gives way to unhinged time signatures, consistently defying my expectations at ever turn. Their solipsistic approach to musical styles reminded me of staying up all night with good friends, and the slap happy feeling that comes from being sleep deprived.


Barnyard Records

This music is silly and unabashedly so, but like all things humorous the laughter comes as a revelation of truth, and with it, beauty. Buckets of mariachi and haphazard bits of klezmer are strained through a filter that leaves only the barest bones of structure; some of the players build upon it, while others work to break it down. Hawaiian steel guitar and melodica impart exotic tropical flavors while old boards quietly groan in the background.

The band move all over a musical world map, taking me into territory I wasn’t familiar with as they traversed slow to swinging passages. By the end I had thrown out the travel guide I was using and navigated my way by instinct, much as they seemed to be doing. Their sense of direction was as finely honed as their musicianship. Even when I was disoriented by the slapdash arrangements, or overwhelmed by the pervading sense of mania, I never got lost.

“Distracted by the Moon” is a carefree ramble halfway through the album, and the only song with lyrics. They take on the same featherbrained quality of the music. “I’m mistaken for a fool/when I fall down from tripping on my shoes.” I can sympathize. Sirens wail in the background, and some of the instruments are purposefully out of key, but only just so, leaving me enough room to feel disconcerted, but not uncomfortable, as I stumble down the streets with the singer, my eyes glued to the glowing orb hanging there.

There are a few familiar landmarks and guideposts moving through the songs. “La Cucaracha” is one of them. In the hands of Blah Blah 666 it sounds as if the insect has been sprayed with an unhealthy dose of RAID. Dancing frantically, it is about to die. I can hear its legs starting to twitch. Spraying roaches with chemicals has never been more fun.

When the belly hurts, it is hard to breathe, and you start to cry because the laughter has been hitting hard, I know it is time to go to bed. So does this band. The music would easily grate on my nerves if left to run the whole possible 80 minute course of a CD, but at 41 minutes of rollicking fun they know when to stop.



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Jeph Jerman/Tim Barnes, "Versatile Ambience"

cover image In Versatile Ambience’s second half, Jeph Jerman and Tim Barnes cobble together a sequence of individual words and short phrases from a small ensemble of speakers. As each solitary fragment, captured with varying degrees of fidelity, falls into place, a kind of instructional sense emerges from the cut-up poetic randomness: “Your voice arrested; the smithy’s forge displacing hard footfall with scrutiny of boot-leather. Attempts to redirect equally malleable.” A final exchange points the way to Versatile’s heart: “You, the anvil?” someone questions. A faded voice replies, “I’m the hammer.” Using insect and animal life, tape noise, and acoustic performances from Jacob Duncan and Ken Vandermark, Jerman and Barnes temper their field recordings like a smith tempers metal, constantly moving from ambiguity to particularity and back again, molding their music with heat and cold. Seemingly inconsequential sounds, like the dry splash of fallen leaves, become intricate explosions. The wooden hum of a violin unfurls and sinks like a wave at sea and the album sways between modes, constantly eluding the firm grip of a total view.

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