September 20, 2007
Tartar Lamb - Sixty Metonymies (2007)
Toby Driver in the past two years has been quite the prolific artist. Releasing his debut solo album, a collection of intensely precise and planned compositions, in late 2005 on Tzadik was his first attempt to distance himself from the extremely epic release "Choirs of the Eye" that had made his band Kayo Dot a critical and underground favorite. Kayo Dot also released their second LP in early 2006; "Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue" was an experiment in the subtle and drawn out. Sure, "Choir"'s strong emotional crescendos were present in "Dowsing", but gone were their epic conclusions. These spots were instead replaced with explosions of noise or ten minutes of drifting guitar work. As Toby himself stated, he felt "Choirs of the Eye" was perfection in what it had attempted to do, so instead of following what most "metal" bands would've done and staying put in his popular musical formula, Toby tried to do something different.
With the release of "Sixty Metonymies", Toby has finally reached the full sound he has been hinting at since his solo release almost two years ago. A sonically sparse and repetitive listen that is referred to by its own composer as a composition built "in such a way that each figure can be heard as metonymical to each other", "Sixty Metonymies" is a dizzying recording that cycles through such a vast cycle of arrangements in such a short time that it'll certainly leave the listener bewildered upon first listen. Certainly Toby's other projects have also had this stigma attached to them, but moments like the intense full band explosion in "The Manifold Curiosity" left the listener some memorable or familiar portion of the song to latch on to on further listen. "Sixty Metonymies" is devoid of these trigger moments and almost completely removed from vocal performance. To describe it as "catchy" would be the overstatement of the decade.
On this recording Toby and Mia Matsumiya's excellent performance is accented by "extended percussionist" Andrew Greenwald and horn player Tim Byrnes of the group Friendly Bears. Greenwald's style of percussion is a fantastic addiction to the bizarre composition of "60 Metonymies". Rarely relying on the traditional, his implication of various objects such as stray metals flavors the more "compositional" parts of the piece with an urgency of modernism. While Greenwald's performance is one of a kind, trumpet player Byrnes is seemingly invoking the kind of playing that was a staple on Kayo Dot's "Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue" It gives the trumpet performance a sort of "we've already heard this" feel and while it isn't necessarily distracting it is somewhat disappointing. Toby's guitar playing is mostly focused on seemingly replicating a piano but his subtle implication of selected chord phrasing gives the piece a more varied feel. Toby is able to prolong an otherwise excessive repetitiveness by always casually advancing into more beautiful and interesting melodies. Mia finally seems to expose her prowess as the group's most experienced player. Her usage of various extended techniques is at the same time virtuous and restrained. Tartar Lamb once again shows her as a key player in any setting, not unlike say a musician like Eric Dolphy who even in his performances of other's works added so much to the playing that without him or her in Mia's case the piece would fall apart. Finally, while Toby's vocal performance is not featured very often when he does add slight breathing, whistling or the final monologue it is a breath of fresh almost childish air.
"60 Metonymies" is yet another emotionally and compositionally brilliant addition to Toby Driver's resume. It is obvious that Toby has mastered his own vision of minimalism with this record and it'll be interesting to see where he goes next. Conquering one's perception of the both the entirely bombastic and entirely reserved is not an easy task but one has to question where Toby will go from here. Kayo Pop? I'm sure like many of his gracious fan base, the next release associated with one of the most interesting composers of our time will not only challenge my sense of music but Toby's own. And that is where Tartar Lamb succeeds, they are not saturated in the idea of pleasing fans but instead just themselves. On the way to record this album Tartar Lamb performed a variety of shows across the north half of the U.S. I was lucky enough to persuade them to come to my home town of State College, Pennsylvania and after the performance Toby, Mia and I listened to an unmastered copy of "60 Metonymies". Where most artists would've grown bored or unimpressed with a piece they'd been working of for two years, Toby and Mia seemed just as fascinated with the recording as me. Pointing out subtle percussion parts, discussing each others' techniques, and even joking about the conclusion, it was obvious that the same devoted and massively appreciative fan base of Toby Driver is such because it reflects his same feelings towards his music. Few artists' work resonates in me the way Toby's does and Tartar Lamb is no different; emotional, interesting, and original.
Like what you hear, buy it! And support the artists that really need it.