David Grubbs

Off-Road

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This second duo album by Chicago-based guitarist and all-around experimental music scene mover David Grubbs and Swedish improv sax player Mats Gustafsson may have been recorded after a Scandinavian tour, but it doesn't show the fatigue of life on the road. Wildly creative and urgent, its only downside resides in its shortness: 33 minutes. But each of these minutes is fulfilling, puzzling, and engrossing. The musicians reinvent themselves with every track. "Rendezvous Up North" is a captivating drone: tenor sax, synthesizer, harmonium, and computer are used to build a piece of sound art that will have you riveted to your seat, despite its long duration. On "Dystopian Turboprop," Gustafsson focuses on breathing sounds from inside the sax, remodeled on the computer. "Pumpkin Creek" is led by Grubbs' folk guitar motif polluted by excessive use of the volume pedal -- odd yet soothing. Henry Moore Selder provides maracas in the latter piece and some turntable growls in the next two. "Skiing + Shooting" begins with a sinister ultra-slow turntable soliloquy, eventually joined by heavy breathing through brass and digital manipulations. "Back Off" caps things off with what can only be described as a surrealistic radio play. Singers, sped-up drum machines, microtonal pitches, and a cat's meow (among many other samples) are turned into an orchestra of the bizarre and the misfit. Disturbingly funny, but not as convincing as it could have been, the track is still not enough of a reason to trash a concert hall, as pictured on the album cover. Listeners are used to expect the unexpected from Grubbs, but with Off-Road he has outdone himself -- once more.

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