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Central Market

Tyondai Braxton

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Album Review

At the time of Central Market's release, Tyondai Braxton was best known as a member of proggy post-rockers Battles, who earned so much acclaim for their 2007 debut album Mirrored that many of their fans might not have known of Braxton's decade-plus of work as an avant-garde solo artist. That's understandable, since his debut solo album History That Has No Effect was released in 2002, but Central Market reintroduces Braxton as an artist with an audacious set of compositions that link to his earlier solo work and Battles, but don't rehash either. On History That Has No Effect, Braxton was truly solo, crafting heavily processed, loop-based pieces that mimicked a larger ensemble through meticulous layering. This time, he collaborates with the Wordless Music Orchestra and composer/string player Caleb Burhans, giving Braxton an entirely new palette of sounds to play with, along with his guitar, electronics, and voice. He dives in with contagious zeal: as impressive as Central Market's compositions and arrangements are (which is very), the most remarkable thing about the album is its playfulness. A joyful impatience runs through almost every track, as if Braxton can't wait for listeners to hear what's coming around the bend. Over the course of the album, he nods to composers and arrangers ranging from Igor Stravinsky, Bernard Hermann, and Brian Eno to Carl Stalling as he blends modern classical, prog rock, hip-hop, and electronic music with ease. However, the album rarely feels "difficult" in the way that pedigree would suggest. Braxton challenges listeners to keep up with every hairpin turn he sets out, but it's well worth the effort. Central Market's first half is especially dazzling: "Opening Bell" alone builds from a rudimentary piano line and zapping synth into a piece that uses the orchestra and Braxton's guitar to suggest a street scene, a parade of wind-up toys and mischief straight out of Looney Tunes. The album's centerpiece is "Platinum Rows," which translates the power of Battles into an extremely vivid orchestral arrangement, juggling rock drums, and Braxton's guitar with mighty strings and brass, and bizarre touches like processed vocals. It truly is filmic (despite the cliché of describing most instrumental music like that), but the twist is that it sounds like the scores to a Western, war movie, and sci-fi epic playing at the same time. Braxton's early solo aesthetic resurfaces on Central Market's second half, giving the album the feeling of two separate suites. "J.City" is the album's most truly rock track and the only one to put Braxton's vocals front and center, but it still doesn't sound much like Battles; its fractured beats and rubbery guitars sound completely unique as the song moves from abrasive to rapturous. Central Market comes to an eerie close with "Dead Strings," which borrows History That Has No Effect's approach for its spring-loaded loops and slippery, hip-hop-tinged rhythm. While the pieces that put the orchestra at the fore are the most dazzling, Central Market is a tour de force that only grows more fascinating with repeated listens.

Biography

Born: Connecticut

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

Experimental composer Tyondai Braxton began performing and writing in Middletown, CT, in the early '90s. Trying everything from the creative orchestra setup to avant-garde jazz to art rock with Antenna Terra, he finally released his first solo album in the summer of 2002. History That Has No Effect is a strange mix of orchestrated organic and electronic loops manipulated through guitar pedals and was released on JMZ Records. A year later he formed the band Battles with John Stanier of Helmet and...
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Central Market, Tyondai Braxton
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