Nels Cline Singers

Macroscope

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    8
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AllMusic Review by

Macroscope is the fifth offering from the Nels Cline Singers and another album that defies simple stylistic categories. Most people would hesitate to call this a rock album, but probably just as many (especially purist jazz snobs) would not consider it a jazz album either. Ultimately, who cares? The Nels Cline Singers make wonderful, adventurous music and Macroscope may be their most accessible album yet, but that doesn't mean it's for everyone. There are pretty melodies and some cool grooves that most listeners might enjoy, but there's also some serious dissonance and swirling clouds of effects that some people will love and some just won't. Nels' use of effects is pretty well known when he's playing electric, but new bass player Trevor Dunn isn't afraid of effects either and drummer Scott Amendola has been using loops, electronics, and processing for years, so the band often sounds like more than just a trio even when there are no guests present. You never know where a song might lead from where it begins. The album begins and ends with two tracks featuring just the trio. "Companion Piece" starts out as sort of a ballad but by the end it's everything a Nels Cline fan could hope for with sick soloing and crazy effects. "Respira" has a languid, airy guitar melody with some wordless vocalizing over clattering percussion and eventually erupts into a heavy groove. "Red Before Orange" might pass for smooth jazz if not for the wobbly washing-machine rhythm of the Drum Buddy and the ferocious wah-wah solo in the middle. "The Wedding Band" has an amazing percussion bed with some crazy guitar manipulations as the lengthy intro. After the bass enters, we get a simple, pretty melody that just keeps increasing in intensity. The title track is spacy, almost ambient, with acoustic guitar and more wordless vocals. "Climb Down" has Cline trading with harpist Zeena Parkins (who is who?) over a martial rhythm. "Seven Zed Heaven" comes out of the gate insistently but then settles down and features a nice bass solo. "Hairy Mother" starts with cool bubbling electronics and what sounds like Cline shouting into his pickups, then a ray-gun fight and another Drum Buddy groove, and it ultimately kicks into a pummeling beat with more sick soloing. "Sascha's Book of Frogs" finishes the set with Nels playing almost bebop little phrases over a spastic, lurching rhythm section with some good old noise passages interspersed. Again, not for everyone. So while the Nels Cline Singers may have a new bass player and a new label, fortunately their sound has not changed. They're still making some of the most interesting, adventurous, genre-smashing music of the early 21st century. Guitar nerds need to check this out, but it's got wider appeal than that too.

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