(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
Pole is the second release from Tuner, the duo of Markus Reuter (guitarist from Centrozoon) and Pat Mastelotto (percussionist with the more recent incarnations of King Crimson). While their last album, Totem was mostly just the two of them making all the noise, this one has a whole bunch of guest appearances. Also I would say the approach on the new one is a little more straightforward…um, that’s not really accurate…let’s say it’s a little less experimental…ok, that’s not completely correct either. Let’s get to the bottom of this, shall we?
The disc kicks off with “White Cake Sky”, a track that’s heavier than anything on Totem. In fact, this sounds a lot like more recent Porcupine Tree/Opeth type stuff complete with growling vocal parts from Kristoffer G. Rygg who some metal heads here may know as a member of the Norwegian black metal group Ulver. There are also clean vocals on the track from Peter Kingsbery of the group Cock Robin. It’s a decent tune but really threw me back when I first heard it. There was nothing like this on the first CD. I think they are going for a much broader audience with this one and this first track is proof.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t any weirder moments on the disc. The third track “11-11” is nearly 11 minutes of bizarre spoken word by Pat over a subtle backing track. He talks about all kinds of creepy things. The track also features world-renowned thereminist Pamelia Kurstin who recently released an album on John Zorn’s Tzadik label.
“Gate 9” is another strange one with whispered dialogue from Chrysta Bell accompanying some really bizarre ambient music. These two tracks also feature another adventurous Texan musician, Laura Scarborough on vibraphone, melodica and/or wind organ. After doing a little research and checking out her webite, I think I’m going to have to familiarize myself with Laura’s music. From the samples, it seems that she does some very interesting electronic stuff.
“So High” and “Down Below” are two short tracks with a fractured piano melody and vocals from Lisa Fletcher, a British vocalist. There are quite a few tracks with excellent female vocalists on here. Some of it reminds me of Trey Gunn’s early solo albums, The Third Star in particular. This stuff can be quite a bit heavier, but the atmosphere sounds similar to me.
The track “Creatures” is about the weirdest thing on the album with lots of different random noises from Pat and Markus. “Arson Dandy” is another strange one with a metal funk style and some oddball lyrics written by Markus. This piece has Austrian singer Sirenée on it. She’s the main featured vocalist on the album and has a totally enrapturing voice. On her myspace page she lists a broad range of influences including Diamanda Galas, P.J. Harvey, Bjork and Meredith Monk among others. I also hear some Siouxsie Sioux in there as well. I guess it should go without saying that Sirenée really makes this music something special. More about her later, I promise.
Ok, so far I’ve talked about the odd songs. Now I’ll move on to the even ones.
The second track on the album is “Black Well Monotony” another heavy groover with Sirenée on vocals. This one has some interesting block percussion sounds from Pat along with his regular drumming. Also Markus provides some rather cool guitar, bass and keyboard riffs on this one. The title track is similar with a heavy groove and more lead vocals from Peter Kingsbery and Sirenée as well. This has some great Fripp-like snarling leads towards the end.
“Stalker” is an eerie track that starts off quietly with a haunting guitar and whispered vocals from Sirenée. Things start to get frantic when she’s repeating, “I want to get out of here.” This is a really nice track to listen to with headphones; well probably the same can be said about the entire album. Lots of work went into this production and there are some very interesting details that can be picked up on closer listening.
“Dig” is another one with a heavy plodding groove. There are some really disturbing vocals from Sirenée on this. Markus really outdoes himself on this one. There are too many guitar tracks to count including some really great acoustic counter melodies. About halfway through, there is a spot that makes me think of Crimson’s “One More Red Nightmare” for a few seconds. This is a really outstanding piece and probably the highlight of the album for me.
A tribal beat with some almost country-ish guitar work is the basis for “Repulsive and Delicious.” Another track that has some disquieting vocals from Sirenée (I said you would hear more about her.) Also featured on this one is the violin work of Roberto Riggo. The violin gives it a slight world-music feel, to break up the vocal insanity.
I’m not sure about the song “Pencilhead”. This is the one moment on the disc that I’m not really getting it. The music is there and everything but Kingsbery’s vocals are deliberately silly and the lyrics are kind of boneheaded as well. There’s even a couple of simulated rap sections on the tune as well. I guess it really can’t be said that this album is without diversity. I don’t hate the song or anything…it’s just a little pencilheaded and I guess that’s what they were aiming for. At least there’s a little melodica solo at the end.
The album concludes with “URIM” a very beautiful ambient piece with Sirenée’s best vocal performance on the album. This has a sort of post rock feel that makes me think of a band like Sigur Rós. There are some nice electronic elements and some cool percussive embellishments. Very dreamy way to end the album.
While I’m still a bit partial to the first Tuner album, overall this is a much more accomplished release. It’s obvious that Mastelotto and Reuter are taking this collaboration seriously and putting a lot of energy into a complex album with lots of trimmings. There are lots more modern rock elements to the album but they’re still doing an extensive amount of chance taking with the music and that’s always a good thing.
I’d give this one my highest recommendation.