Two very different bands based in Austin, Texas have one thing in common: they both excel at live improvisation. Eclectic collective My Education released A Drink For All My Friends (Golden Antenna, Europe and Haute Magie, U.S.A.) on CD and mp3 format after Thanksgiving, and the free jazz & surf rock association Plutonium Farmers (led by prolific Jonathan Horne) recently celebrated the release of a double LP on vinyl and mp3, Helloha and Index Zero (Wattage Cottage Records).
A Drink for All My Friends
(Golden Antenna, E.U. and Haute Magie, U.S.A.)
My Education considers their ensemble a learning experience for even its most seasoned members, like Scott Telles (ST 37), and has developed through different phases, maturing into a signature sound that continues to explore the depths of musical expression. The current phase definitely sounds heavier, or more intensely dramatic, with A Drink For All My Friends.
“A Drink…” briefly commences the 7-track EP with minimalist percussion, which includes a foreshadowing vibraphone, then effortlessly leaps to “…for All My Friends”, a beautifully complex piece that begins as a western-tinged string arrangement and ends as a progressive metal work. The album seems best experienced as one composition, although individually, each track composed sounds like a work of art in an abstract collection of short stories. The haunting strings and cadences of “Mister 1986” involve random samples that sound like the steps of human activity in an urban setting. The sampling rolls into the takeoff of “Black Box”, another composition featuring recorded samples and pulsating keyboard, highlighted by flowing wind instrumentation and soaring guitar, and punctuated by vibraphone and the slow groove of bass and drums. “Roboter-Hohlenbewohner” definitely simulates German synth rock, yet generates its own futuristic energy. “Happy Village” conjures a contrasting image of a future utopia, as rhythmic guitar illustrates a simpler and slower pace of progress that gradually quickens its descent into the controlled calamity of “Homunculus”. The finale piece works out the aggression of conflict between wailing sax and guitar to an overall satisfying conclusion that’s not necessarily a happy ending to a narrative of sound and fury.
Overall, My Education’s A Drink For All My Friends could serve as a soundtrack to a movie, similar to the ensemble’s earlier film work (F.W. Murnau’s 1927 silent masterpiece “Sunrise”), or as a soundtrack to the post-modern pace of life in an artistically diverse and evolving community—and world. Cheers to those who find beauty in the chaos of the the quasi-composed/improvised album.
My Education’s Next Live Performances: January 3rd and 10th @ Beauty Ballroom
Helloha and Index Zero
(Wattage Cottage Records)
Plutonium Farmers’ Helloha and Index Zero features the veraciously talented and passionate Jonathan Horne on vocals and guitar, and distinctly different, dynamic drummers Aaron Dugan and Matthew Armistead, and was recorded live by Steve Albini.
The noise rock introduction or invitation of the long-awaited double LP, “It’s For You”, summons listeners with decidedly independent tastes: music lovers who appreciate the improvisational elements of free jazz, and the body moving riffs of surf rock. “Easy” best describes the easy flowing soulfulness of the guitar riffs and drum beats of the track, leading the listener into a not quite comfortable yet enjoyable listening zone. Rock and jazz drum styles duel yet somehow get along, bonded with the effortless language of guitar, interspersed with seemingly random poetic vocal outbursts. The transformative “JuJu” (cover of a Wayne Shorter classic) presents a Horne solo, where his guitar speaks and casts a spell of attentiveness that lasts throughout the two-part album. Another early highlight of Helloha and Index Zero, “Land of Sunsets”, is a warmly unique interpretation of a song by Horne’s grandfather, Scott Mills.
The second half of the album builds to noisy ecstasy, with the sensitively strong vocals of “Red Show at the Opera House”, and the playful drums and guitar of “Fresh Produce”, which both seem autobiographical in nature, although all of the recordings are improvised. The sonic gems continue beyond “You Only Need One Pearl”, a Horne solo that offers unnecessary yet welcome proof of his subtle guitar genius, and surf riffs rule as the noise rock kahuna Plutonium Farmers play “Strange Surf Motto”. The latter part of the album deceptively decrescendos into intuitive rock improvisation, then psychs out listeners by cranking up the volume to loud and unsteady, yet solid rock beats. If you seek a sonic adventure to an imaginary destination, then Plutonium Farmers says “Welcome to Where We’re At”.
Plutonium Farmers’ two-disk album could be dismissed as quirky musings of a noise rock band, or appreciated as an exploration of what makes the cacophonous in music pleasing to ears. Helloha and Index Zero is an engaging effort—by a delicately balanced act of artistic free spirits and technical precision—that defies music conformity. This is what makes music innovative and enjoyable.
The double LP album is available for digital download at sites like Amazon and CDBaby, and you can order it on vinyl by contacting the band at their website.