Jul 5 2014
Tucker Martine is a studio magician. His ability to pull together a diverse array of elements and bundle them up into a spellbinding cohesive whole is both impressive and rewarding. Of recent note is the Floratone collaboration of himself, Lee Townsend, Bill Frisell and Matt Chamberlain (plus various guests). Both the self-titled debut and the sophomore release Floratone II were a cagey mix of Frisellian Americana, ambient electronica, post-rock, minimalism, and strains of modern jazz. More relevantly, however, was the music’s mix of mesmerizing beauty and folksy charm… qualities that appeal to both heart and head. And it was music that didn’t really sound like anything else on the scene.
But it wasn’t what started it all. There were similar collaborations which preceded Floratone. Most notably is that of the Mount Analog ensemble and their 2004 sophomore release New Skin.
Mount Analog utilizes many of the same influences and many of the same musicians that conjured up the music of Floratone, but where Floratone is heavier on the Americana sound, Mount Analog is heavier on the post-rock and it also throws in some light doses of the avant-garde.
Mount Analog’s 1997 self-titled debut was all well and good, but it stuck to a minimalism that didn’t really flesh out the other possibilities. It stayed in a comfortable pocket and that was that. But seven years later, on New Skin, Tucker Martine brought a new, dynamic approach to the ensemble, and the result is something quite hypnotic from a cerebral perspective, and, at times, so damn pretty it’s heartbreaking.
The way in which Martine is able to bind seemingly disassociated sounds into a singular expression is what carries this recording. The eerie call of strings, the strangled effects and unpredictable bursts of percussion create an ambiance that is equally alluring and chilling. And on “Harry Smith’s Cats,” Martine adds the field recording of kids playing and laughing to the accompaniment of the slow tolling of piano notes, and the contrast between laughter and fearfulness is jacked up a couple extra notches.
More of this manifests with the deep resonance of bass clarinet providing contrast as the darkness that surrounds the glittering moonlight of omnichord. This alone is worth the price of admission, but that it bursts free from the persistent crash of an upbeat tempo and a guitar contribution that strikes a melodic path right down the center of the song makes for a transcendent moment.
Some tracks are more single-minded, though no less compelling for it. “Freeze Green” has the field recordings of a train station leading into a din of sound that embodies a freight train passing through… drums, harmonica, harmonium, percussion, effects, guitars… they all come blasting through, with a plume of steam the only thing missing.
Just a marvelous album that finds multiple ways to captivate.
Your album personnel: Tucker Martine (drums, cymbals, guitar, harmonica, harmonium, field recordings, omnichord, various other percussion and effects), Fred Chalenor (bass), Bill Frisell (guitar), Jon Hyde (nylon string guitar), Eyvind Kang (harp, viola), Keith Lowe (bass), Steve Moore (piano, trombone, vibraphone, harmonium, mellotron, muted trombone), Doug Wieselman (clarinet, bass clarinet, guitar), Tim Young (guitar), and Bruce Wirth (harmonium, organ, violin).
Released in 2004 on the FILMguerrero label.
The Safety Net, a Bird is the Worm series that highlights outstanding older albums that may have flown under the radar when first released.
Here’s a video that uses a portion of the song “Gospel Melodica” to create a video postcard of Nathan Clifford Elementary, Falmouth Street, Portland, Maine. It appears to be the class assignment of someone named Leanna Elisabeth. I think it’s really good, maybe even better than good. Definitely right up my alley. Here’s a link to the other videos she’s uploaded to her YouTube page.
And, speaking of Floratone, here’s a link to a review of their second album that I wrote for this site, which, tangentially, talks about their debut, too. Admittedly, I like their debut recording better, but both are way enjoyable. Following this LINK to the review.