Alec K. Redfearn & the Eyesores

The Quiet Room

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Active for more than 15 years in the Providence, RI, underground arts scene, Alec K. Redfearn has been involved with various local and regional ensembles as a musician, composer, and performance artist, but the Eyesores band is probably his most commercial and accessible undertaking. This, their fourth CD (they debuted in 1997), is not exactly a grab for the brass ring, but at least they've graduated to a nationally distributed label and may pick up a few new fans. They certainly deserve much wider recognition; their experimental Balkan/East European folk-inspired music is not only cleverly conceived, but executed with wit, style, and just a hint of darkness (a Transylvanian edge, perhaps?). Goth elements are reinforced by three minor-key vocal tracks with artfully morbid lyrics. At the time of this recording, the Eyesores numbered eight (with a guest cello and viola on several pieces), although one suspects that the band may be the kind of communal enterprise that expands or contracts from gig to gig. Instruments include string bass, guitar, horn in F, alto sax, violin, Hammond B-3 organ, piano, various percussion, and analog and digital electronics. Redfearn's wheezy, rhythmic accordions, both amplified and unamplified, are the dominant instrumental sound, and while much of his playing has an authentic folk base, his compositions and arrangements are filled with eccentric embellishments and exaggerations. Drones and repeated riffs in many pieces take on a hypnotic, almost obsessive quality, giving the music an almost demonic urgency. It's clear that minimalists such as Steve Reich have been a source of inspiration for Redfearn and the ensemble, which is most obvious on spacy little vignettes such as "Morphine Drip." But elsewhere, the minimalist sensibility is wedded to modal folk melodies, with some skronky free jazz energy dumped into the pot, along with occasional, totally unexpected electronic treatments, the most arresting of which are the beeper tone and then repeated rhythmic busy back signal on "Coke Bugs." The use of telephone sounds brings to mind another similarly oriented futuristic folk group, Simon Jeffes' marvelous Penguin Cafe Orchestra of a few years back. (Fans of the PCO may recall a strange little piece of theirs titled "Telephone and Rubber Band.") The affectionate distortion of traditional materials is common to both bands, and both serve (or served) as vehicles for the vision of an individual leader. (Jeffes died an untimely death in 1997.) But the English PCO had a stronger classical influence and was more refined and even whimsical, in typically British fashion. Alec K. Redfearn & the Eyesores, on the other hand, have a rougher, more visceral sensibility. They offer experimental future folk with elements of real dirt and sweat -- and a touch of mania. Highly recommended.

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