Critters Buggin'


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For their first album in five years, the Seattle quartet continues in the instrumental jazz/electronica/funk/dub/experimental vein established on its existing catalog. Moody and eclectic but never frigid, the music succeeds by combining its diverse influences in warm, organic ways. Each track is a multi-layered microcosm of movement, and although there are plenty of danceable parts -- along with some dancefloor-clearing ones -- the album is best appreciated with headphones where all the intricacies of the tempo changes and especially the dynamic percussion can be picked out amongst the clatter. Even elements of prog -- especially early King Crimson on the pounding "Punk Rock Guilt" -- shapeshift into jazz and free form then back again with deceptive ease. Although far from commercial, the album boasts softer and less frantic moments, as the songs -- actually pieces -- start slowly then build up a head of steam. Some seem to mesh two tracks into one as on "We Are the New People," where a Santana-styled percussion mid-section is grafted onto an ambient front end. The music is lively and inspired as it expands and contracts with remarkable facility. When shifting into experimental mode, it nonetheless returns to more melodic pastures. The group craftily navigates the fine line between challenging and avant-garde, managing to be both while seldom stylistically straying too far outside to be abrasive. The band plays as a democracy with no musician overwhelming the others, and very few solos. Rather, the collective combines instruments into riffs that form repeated phrases that sometimes yield identifiable songs. "Persephone Under Mars" indulges the quartet's soundtrack aesthetic as it works in a melody that sounds like the theme to Lost in Space between percussive beats. While funk workouts like "Sista Boto" seem to be danceable in a sort of alternative James Brown way, the band throws enough twists into the tune to keep their jazz credentials, especially as a distorted electric piano pokes holes in the bass and "Skerik"'s sax shrieks. Extraordinarily tight, creative and fluid, Stampede should be cherished by those into Miles Davis' electric period, Weather Report and similar demanding and boundary pushing outfits whose multi-genre sound is difficult to pigeonhole as jazz, funk, or rock.

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