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SYR 5: Olive's Horn

DJ Olive, Ikue Mori & Kim Gordon

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Album Review

When Free Kitten took an extended sabbatical following their second album, Kim Gordon spent her spare time outside Sonic Youth putting together a new trio with two other luminaries from the New York downtown scene: former drummer of no-wave legends DNA, Ikue Mori, and turntablist extraordinaire DJ Olive of We and Liminal (not to mention the coiner of the term "illbient"). The trio started playing together in 1999, arriving at a sonic concept before recording their debut album (the first recording on SYR not by Sonic Youth proper) with engineer Whaton Tiers and jack-of-all-trades Jim O'Rourke. As can be expected with the involved parties, it is an artsy, exploratory effort, but it is also somewhat more than just the sum of its parts. The music is full of stops and starts, short snatches of funkified low-end that dissipate as quick as they begin, and ringing alien sounds, all spun into a post-apocalyptic, cyberconscious milieu of indeterminate time and space, a razed wasteland of alternately glistening and metallic washes of sound. "Paperbag/Orange Laptop" is a jumble of slammed-door percussion and turntable trickery, with Gordon's angular, open-ended guitar doodles perhaps the closest the album comes to melody. Gradually the song opens up with womb-like surrealism: a Miles Davis trumpet flare sounds off in the distance, water droplets turn into alien voices. "Olive's Horn" begins as the musical equivalent to a Close Encounters-like UFO landing, but it is washed away as if it were a dream by a pair of sorrowful alto saxes that close the song. That is how the album works in general. No style, whether it is fashionably electronic or the quaint flourishes of jazz, sticks around long enough to take precedence. They bleed into each other like life sounds. Where the album could have just been fashionably futuristic sound effects and garbled avant-noise, it becomes a fascinating tangle. The sonic manipulation creates its own narrative, while Gordon's singing weaves in and out of the sound with a ghostly beauty that recalls experimental free vocalists such as Patty Waters or Joan LaBradford. The music is an exercise in deconstruction, to be sure, and is not exactly easy listening, but it is also a relentlessly expressive dismantling of sound that doesn't leave a listener spent just for trying to follow its headiness. What could have been a bleak soundscape becomes a maze, both intriguing and disorienting, a jungle where black-lit eyes stare back at you from the bushes.

SYR 5: Olive's Horn, DJ Olive
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