Howe Gelb is no stranger to collaboration in the 21st century. Since 2006 he's released records with a gospel choir ('Sno Angel Like You), and a flamenco group led by Raimundo Amador (Alegrias). What sets this recording with Vienna's Radian apart from those offerings is that this is their album. Over four sessions, Gelb contributed lyrics, melodies, piano parts, acoustic guitar fragments, and mostly his rambling vocals. Radian is an experimental trio comprised of drummer/sonic arranger Martin Brandlmayr, bassist John Norman, and new guitarist/sound editor Martin Siewert. Their tunes usually begin as improvisations and take on more recognizable forms as they evolve. True to form, they give Gelb's offerings their signature treatment: Splintering, editing, and spindling them to their own purposes. But Gelb is never lost in the process; in many ways, he anchors it. Both parties come from musical areas where terrains are often blurry and shambolic: Gelb from loose Southwestern Americana and adventurous guitar rock, and Radian from an experimental geography between This Heat and early Tortoise. The natural tension between these poles is allowed free rein here, but this intimate, often spectral recording never devolves into excess. Opener "Saturated" commences with radio static, and like its second half, "Saturated Beyond," is rooted in a dub-like blues groove that eventually takes on a mutant funk sheen. Sparse, processed sounds are given a rhythmic pulse amid a skeletal bassline, brushed snares, a tom-tom, and glitchy guitar. Single keyboard notes are droned in, and vocals are woven in skittering cadences, natural spoken tones, and pitched, controlled syllables. Eventually the whole vamp emerges to carry on for the better part of nine minutes. "I'm Going In" is a reverse trip through the birth canal. With pulsing synth tones, slippery vibe sounds, pen-toned guitar, and trancey, skittering drums, Gelb announces that he's "going in/keep a tight leash on that umbilical/you're gonna have to take up the slack…." This is a vast, aural, inner space exploration. That journey continues on "From Birth to Mortician," the only cut here that emerges with an actual strummed guitar hook -- albeit somewhat momentarily -- though it follows a series of set changes. "The Constant Pitch and Sway" is just that, but from a truly blob-like mass of short sonic bursts, a fine experimental rock & roll song comes into being. The only thing that doesn't work here is the closer, a cover of "Moon River." It feels calculated -- perhaps it's because there's more of Gelb's persona layered on than in the rest of the record. It's a small complaint though. The rest of Radian Verses Howe Gelb is a spooky, mysterious sound (and song) collage that has many secrets buried in its murky depths.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek