this review originally appeared in Thaumaturgy, a blog dedicated to new experimental and psychedelic music
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Jazzfinger, The Well of Used Dreams
What is known about Jazzfinger?
Aside from a cordial and illuminating interview conducted by Neil Campbell in Bananafish back in 2000, little press has been given to these three forward-thinking lads from Newcastle. These, then, are the facts as we have them.
1. Jazzfinger is Ben Jones, Hasan Gaylani and Ben Wilkinson.
2. They have released, to my knowledge, 2 proper albums prior to this doozy (ie. The Little Girl on the Plane Who Turned Her Doll's Head Around to Look at Me cd on Muzamuza in 1998, and a split LP with Orrin DeForest on Traqueto in 2001) since forming in 1996.
3. Two of the members have served in various incarnations of the Sunroof! big band and the Hototogisu under the despotic grip of Matthew Bower.
4. Jazzfinger makes the most sweetly fucked lo-fi drones of anyone in recent history.
Recorded in glorious low fidelity directly to 2-track, The Well of Used Dreams is the product of 3 beings obviously in love with sound. Unstructured but coherent, dark yet playful, patient but still punk as hell, the eleven cuts here all hew to a slippery aesthetic with few antecedents. There are hints of the familiar- the DIY minimalism of Zoviet France, a touch of the amplified electronic texturalism of contemporaries Son of Earth, the grey sonic pantheism of Thuja, even some devotional Popul Vuh-esque organ tones, perhaps- but ultimately, Jazzfinger's "neither fish nor fowl" approach results in a sound that is completely and uniquely their own.
Eschewing the maximalist bombast that seems so de rigeur for most experimental drone and noise acts these days, Jazzfinger are not afraid to luxuriate in the slow build of ideas and the spaces between notes. "Secret Grandfather" is a perfect case in point, a piece of musical "no-mind" in which piano and what sounds like a koto trade koans like a pair of Zen Buddhist monks pushing each other towards satori. "I Am In Blood" further advances this approach. While a melancholic guitar melody and mournful organ lull the listener into somnambulistic trance, a coursing stream of fractured electronics darts in and out, never allowing one to fully succumb to the seduction of sleep.
Elsewhere, Jazzfinger let go of all quasi-ambient pretensions altogether. "History of Tweed" (made of what? steel wool?) plunges into the red without remorse. Morphing tectonic beats somehow manage to avoid the Industrial tag as they thunder like cybernetic mammoths across a vast expanse. Midway through the piece, magnetic guitar and retarded vocals abruptly give way to a majestic church organ being played in an ancient stone church. Quavering tones soar as apocalytic earthquakes slowly pulverize the marble floor beneath.
The apotheosis of the "Jazzfinger sound" is reached in the final track, "The Lighthouse Keepers", in which Jazzfinger's potential for enveloping drones is finally and most fully realized. Coiled around a backbone of a simple repeated modem-esque squawk that ebbs and flows in volume throughout the piece, the trio gradually flesh things out with an array of understated tapped and bowed cymbal, throbbing keyboards, atonal guitar notes, and other subliminal gestures. The end result is a teeming universe of intimate sounds, a constantly evolving dronescape that never grows old. Although humbler in approach, the consistently engaging nature of this piece illuminates a often static genre with an energy comparable to the best work of drone demigods like Campbell Kneale and rh Band.
The Well of Used Dreams is an understated gem, influenced by many but beholden to none. Although it is (sadly) unlikely that this limited release will garner Jazzfinger the attention they deserve, it will certainly continue to be viewed fondly by knowing heads as a seminal moment in the history of the 21st century's New Electrical Sublime.