After the country-inflected minimalism of The Thicket, David Grubbs -- evidently "wanting to be taken seriously as an avant-garde man," to quote his former partner in Gastr del Sol, Jim O'Rourke -- teams up with French musicians from Noël Akchoté and Quentin Rollet's Rectangle label. The title track is a 17-minute setting of Stephen Crane's short story The Blue Hotel (which Grubbs sketched out while waiting for his plane to Paris). One wonders whether he could have made better use of the phenomenal talents of improvisers Theirry Madiot, Yves Robert, and Didier Petit had he had more time. The B-side, "Aux Noctambules," is a drone-based composition featuring Grubbs on a plastic reed organ with discreet contributions from Rectangle house guitarist Noël Akchoté. "The Coxcomb" sets salient extracts from the original Crane over a recurring melodic and harmonic refrain and resists the temptation to explode into violence -- unlike the protagonist in the story. Grubbs' admiration for Mayo Thompson and the Red Krayola aesthetic that "any text can go with any music" is reflected both in his word setting and in his choice of the Red Krayola's Stephen Prina as the narrator. Another mentor, Tony Conrad, comes to mind when listening to "Aux Noctambules," though instead of his gritty violin, there is instead the unnerving (and occasionally pitch-unstable) reed organ. Akchoté's normally ebullient guitar is confined here to sketching in the harmonic background, curiously recalling John McLaughlin's delicate arpeggios on Miles Davis' In a Silent Way. The picture-disc version will, one imagines, become something of a collector's item.
AllMusic Review by Dan Warburton