this review originally appeared in Thaumaturgy, a blog dedicated to new experimental and psychedelic music
Thursday, Feburary 22, 2005
green inferno, by bird show
Many people coming to Green Inferno will already be familiar with Ben Vida, most likely from his relatively high-profile work with Town and Country. Fans of that outstanding ensemble might find, at least intially, that Green Inferno isn't exactly what they expected: the album opens with a loud nasal drone and an exuberant kalimba rhythm that is miles away from the acoustic constructions that have become Town and Country's stock-in-trade (and even further from the gentle arrangments for solo guitar that constitute Vida's 2000 album, Mpls.). With this opener ("All Afternoon") the album immediately earns its title, plunging us, without warning, into a chromatic head-space of teeming fractal intensity.
This opening is especially startling because it seems to draw its inspiration from a tradition of African ritual music, rather than from the tradition of Western art music that I'd more readily associate with Vida. Upon reflection this shift isn't actually so surprising: American minimalists have long been fascinated with the open-ended form and trance-inducing repetitions of African musica piece like Steve Reich's Drumming (1971), heavily informed by Reich's study of Ghanan polyrhythms, serves as the best expression of this tendency.
Not all of Green Inferno owes as heavy a debt to African traditional musics, however: the harmonium drones, acoustic guitar and trumpet of a piece like "Always / Never Sleep" would feel quite at home on a Town and Country album, and the album's vocal pieces, in which Vida murmurs vocals over field recordings of insectile hum, feel almost like a response to the sun-dappled meadow psychedelia of the Jewelled Antler folks. Then there's the short vocal piece "Landlovers," which, with its dazed croon, weird multitracking effects, and languid trumpet swells, uncannily evokes Chet Baker's collaborations with Terry Riley.
This compelling array of hybrid forms makes Green Inferno a consistently intriguing album. At its best it will show you a route through intricacy to bliss.