steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

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info opinion

Odd Clouds

"Deceiving Illusion" CD

Not Not Fun

Genre: free jazz, improv, experimental

January 2010

Seldom does one come across a septet on the underground weird/free music scene, likely due to the casual nature of the scene itself as well as the logistical hurdle of getting a big troupe together to record. Nevertheless, Odd Clouds' Chris Pottinger (Cotton Museum, Slither) and Jamie Easter (Drona Parva) have assembled seven expert improvisers for this dense strip of jam-session goodness. I'll admit I haven't heard anything else from this meteorological outfit, who've issued most of their past material through Fag Tapes (that label's proprietor, Heath Moerland, also appears on this LP), though a high-octane production such as this seems as good a starting point as any. As if heeding the call of my inexperience, this free-jazz romp gets its point across rapidly. For the bulk of Deceiving Illusion, the listener is confronted with improvised sax, trumpet, and electric guitar strewn over a psychedelic backbone of rhythm and guitar. The wild, loosey-goosey outcome is sort of like Acid Mothers Temple meets the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

As a foreword to side A, Odd Clouds kick off with the drudging sound of a record being manually dragged across its needle; this brief, anomalous passage then empties into a macabre junk dirge which is more at home with the album's principal thesis. A brief second track lays down a plodding beat and guitar groove over which regular, irked sax screeches breathe and ferment, only to die off in favor of the arrhythmic interlude of track three -- here we get psychedelic guitar blips, reverberating woodwind swirls, and restless percussive squalls. Though it lacks the psychedelic rhythm of this LP's main jams, it is one of its better improvisations; the musicians skillfully manoeuver to generate a piece that's cacophonous but not unlistenable, joyously unbound but hinting at a dark underside -- it's sort of like the score to some cabalistic dream sequence, or, perhaps, a nihilistic arthouse war scene. Ultimately, however, it's a build-up to the side's fourth and final outlet, which blows along in a determined movement of propulsive, tribal rhythm beneath playful but tetchy trumpeting and the twinkly plinking of a Makoto-esque electric guitar.

The B-side begins with a divine rustle-bustle like animals slowly wandering under the morning sun. Eerie mechanoid vocals are then introduced to somewhat jarring effect, but this is merely a preamble to the side's main attraction, an extended, expansive jam session built around a brilliant bed of volatile and hectic percussion. Now, this is hardly an epiphany. Innumerable bands have performed innumerable psychedelic free-jazz improvisations before this, and among these countless freak-outs one can be sure that Odd Clouds have been at some point bettered on pretty much any abstract noun you can name (wondrousness, loudness, psychedelicness, impressiveness...) Instead, this lengthy passage is merely part of a greater ritual -- the band's entry into the pantheon of cathartic improv jams. It is, after all, a particularly admirable blast. The guitars and woodwinds interact playfully with one another; they call-and-respond, they tussle around in the mud together -- clearly musicianship is not a question here. The performers combine notions of melody and convention with the dissonance and abstraction of the saxophone and electric guitar twang. As it wisps through alternating climaxes and pensive moments, the band maintains a constantly psychedelic vibe, especially when the bass is grooving. As the track draws to a reserved close, one feels some perspiration and -- perhaps, among the more hardcore of us -- the rumblings of an impending erection. A job well done, to be sure.


Michael Tau

[Vitals: distributed by the label, released 2009]