Monday, March 29, 2010

thenumber46 - Bleach and Ammonia [Tape Drift]

Had to get some words up about this tape as its one of the oddest things to come down the AuxOut pipeline recently, despite the rather blah band name.
46 is a duo of Suzanne Thorpe (who apparently was a founding member of Mercury Rev) and Philip White who both employ electronics for their musical game but the real curveball here is Thorpe is usually wailing away on her flute. Off the top of my head, Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides is the only other act out there using flute regularly so 46 is in exclusive company.
The first of eleven, "Beehive as a Child" wanders through slightly fuller passages of sustained tones as well as plenty of sputtering motor electronic freakouts and weird percussive rhythms. It's heavy on the confusion. The first time I jammed the tape, though I liked the album as a whole, this track wasn't working for me for some reason. Although, when I returned to it, it was one of the stronger tracks. Listening to this group (for me) required total recalibration as a listener. Even though I listen to a lot of stuff I'd categorize as "weirder" than this, the tape wasn't totally accessible the first time through and definitely requires the listeners full attention. But hey, flute and electronics? There are plenty of nuggets to be mined from that combo, and after a period of adjustment, I found thenumber46 to be unearthing quite a few.
Unlike "Beehive," I definitely responded to "Two Choices" the first time through. Auto-panned electronic stutters, crunching feedback and gusts of hollow wind collide in a swiftly paced panic lasting maybe two minutes. "Like a Magazine" is a bit quieter with rustling static and short, breathy puffs of flute. The track is at its best when the electronics make their presence known with tumbling, strangely percussive sounds. One of the standouts, "Pilotless Airplane," comes next. Over a looped, programmed rhythm, the flute waxes free. The flute and electronics then begin an interplay occasionally trading licks and all. The duo use a lot restraint with this piece, keeping everything tightly controlled as the elements multiply and congeal with a measured build in intensity. It's difficult to find a good point of reference because the track sounds like a lot of things and nothing else at the same time. It's a well-played hand for sure. "Bet with Myself" kicks in with some kind of steel drum type noise (the flute? a sample?) that totally perplexes me. The electronics groan and squirm underneath the wigged out steel drum/whatever. The electronics step into a brief, mechanized march reminding of the early Yswans days when they rocked the drum machine. It's not as fully realized as the previous track but its a cool jam nonetheless. Closing out the side is "An Operation." Electronics are a lot thicker here with numerous layers of mild-mannered feedback as the flute improvises. "An Operation" quickly amounts to the heaviest track of the side; the layers of feedback continue to be piled on forming a pretty dense wall of sound by the end of it. That wall is surprisingly usurped by quiet meandering flute with which the track drifts out on.
Side no. 2 brings "The Amen Song" which immediately shoves the icepick through your ear drum with a high-pitched skittering shard of feedback. The duo is definitely in "hot jazz" mode on this one with the flute ripping all sorts of runs and the electronics providing a twisted approximation of a percussion solo. Things cool down for the other side of the track though, with sustained tones coming from both flute and feedback. The duo manages a few fucked agonized freight train bleats in there too. The feedback repeatedly shatters the relative calm of the flute's tones. That is until the flute gets wilder, backed up by lurching, gasping electronics. "Thumbing" is a pretty short track of uneasy flute and feedback tones. "Drainpipe" is a total roughnecker. Violent blasts of feedback greet you for a minute and a half before "settling" into a bizarre rhythmic passage that seriously borders on a house/disco jam. It's pretty fucking killer to tell you the truth. Around halfway through the jam heads into a quieter section. There's still a residual pulse from the previous section though. "The Plates Flying Off the Wall" is a great flute-focused track where the electronics debate with themselves whether they want to respect, interrupt or mimic the flute. It never decides on one and the track is all the better for it. It's home to some of the best electronic mangling on the tape. "Morse Moan" closes out the tape with some sharp tones, crunches, rumbles and clicks as well as a couple ghostly melodic moments.
As I mentioned before, thenumber46 is hard to pin down. There's certainly elements of harsh(ish) noise as well as the loopier free-whatever scenes. Though they come to very different outcomes, thenumber46 reminds me of Caldera Lakes a little in each group's respective adaptation and hybridization of rough electronics with vastly different forms of music.
If I'm not mistaken this is the duo's first release, so I'm definitely looking forward to whatever directions the duo explores further in the future. Though the tape could use a little trimming here and there, there's plenty to get excited about.
Edition of 100, still available. Pro-dubbed with bright yellow cassette shells! Smart move Tape Drift.

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