Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CD Review: Ches Smith's Cong for Brums - Psycho Predictions

Ches Smith's Cong for Brums
Psycho Predictions

Psycho Predictions is all Ches Smith, but it shouldn't be considered a solo drum album, or a solo percussion album either. Smith does use his trap kit, along with some percussive devices and the vibes, but he also incorporates electronics into the mix, jumping quickly from one of these instruments to another, sometimes before there is a chance to adjust to the mix, while at other times the transition offers a welcome relief from abrasive noise.

It's best to listen to this album (a vinyl-only release, with a digital download) and imagine a live performance. Think of it that way, and this idiosyncratic performance gets really engaging. The opening segment, "Death Chart," begins moving quickly in a manner that must be totally engaging when it happens a few feet from your seat. Any listener who uses their cellphones as an alarm, or who's used to jumping up from their desk when receiving an email alert, should prepare to be spooked in the first few minutes. Without so much as a break, Smith kicks off on the traps with a loopy beat that provides respite from the electronics. These jarring noises are probably the hardest thing to take throughout the three-part piece, simply because they're so shrill and loud.

Psycho Predictions was recorded without any overdubs so the imagine-the-performance focus gives a greater perspective to Smith's dexterity. If there are any silent moments, they exist intentionally to provide pause. Otherwise things flow from one section to another or build upon an initial idea until you have to wonder if the vibes were live or triggered by a sample, and if the electronic countermelody was preplanned or not. By the time Smith starts playing the toms around the middle of "Conclusion: That's Life," he makes you listen with a completely different perspective on the trap kit. It's not merely a fill or some random hits that he's playing. It sounds like a melody. This section concludes with a real frenzied drum solo which also feels too brief after the journey we've traveled.

Smith has played with everyone from Tim Berne to Terry Riley to indie rockers Xiu Xiu. That diversity has really opened his mind to all kinds of musical possibilities for his instruments of choice. While there are moments on Psycho Predictions that could've progressed a little faster, the whole thing comes across as a solid effort.

Addendum 1/6/13: For some reason this review has attracted a lot of spam. For that reason, I'm disabling the comment section.

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