Tucker Martine and Wayne Horvitz have worked together a lot over the last decade or so, with Martine generally acting as engineer (his role in the 4 + 1 Ensemble was "limited" to live processing), but Mylab is their first fully collaborative effort together. The songs started with Martine taking various ancient public-domain folk recordings (from around the turn of the last century), which he then sampled and looped in order to form the basis for new compositions, fleshed out by Horvitz and Martine together. A long list of Seattle's musical luminaries was then brought in for overdubs, sometimes adding new parts and sometimes replacing the part created by the old samples. The result is a thoroughly modern-sounding recording built from the familiar rhythms and melodies of the folk music tradition that country, blues, and rock & roll were built from. It's a fascinating juxtaposition made more interesting by the fact that many of the instruments and the samples themselves were treated further, so sometimes it's difficult to discern whether the source is the old recordings or the recent playing. And given the modus operandi, the amount of stylistic ground covered is impressive. "Varmint" is built on a mournful fiddle figure, with Danny Barnes' dobro adding a further bluegrass flavor, which is tempered by one of several excellent Bill Frisell solos. The next track, "Fancy Party Cakes," is loaded with crazy electronic squelches, programmed (or highly treated) drums, and backward effects. "Phil and Jerry" (an ode to the Grateful Dead?) starts out sounding very African, thanks to the ngoni playing of Kassemadi Kamissogo, then moves into Pharoah Sanders territory with Skerik on sax. The title "Old Days" might be an allusion to Horvitz's old band the President, as the tune strongly recalls that band (with Andy Roth doing his finest Bobby Previte imitation on drums, while Previte appears on several other tunes). Despite the fact that there are a lot of different styles on display here, Horvitz's tonal palette on keys and individual compositional voice really ties all the songs together. Mylab is a unique-sounding project that has succeeded in making an album that is interesting and challenging while being utterly approachable. This is sonic alchemy of the highest order. Well done.
by Sean Westergaard