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Thin Shells of Revolution

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Album Review

Eric Arn has led Primordial Undermind through several incarnations and as many musical evolutions, none of them interchangeable but all, in their ways, vastly rewarding. The project's fifth full-length album is no different in that regard, and continued to expand the band's music in complexity, and with an undiluted beauty. The double percussionist setup is instantly reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, and Arn's guitar playing is comparably stratospheric, especially on a few archetypal, barely contained psychedelic explosions — the majestic "F.L.I.," "Akaknow," with its wending, Phil Lesh-like bassline, and the almost too lovely "Ten Toes, One Soul," which boasts the sort of encompassing, sun-cast melody at which U2 has long excelled. Elsewhere, the high, lonesome sound of the Dillards' "There Is a Time" becomes cosmic in Primordial Undermind's possession. From desolate bluegrass the song is transformed into a seething, foreboding dirge, as if visited by a phalanx of maleficent phantoms. The album's most important addition, though, proves to be the versatile reed playing of Otis Cleveland, which gives the band an unmistakably free-form, avant-garde edge on certain songs, and the ability to explore sonorities and textures heretofore unavailable to them. The modal blowing and invigorating jungle polyrhythms (as well as some searching work from Arn) on "Theme from Serpent," for instance, come very close to re-creating the mood of Merrell Fankhauser and Jeff Cotton's brilliantly skewed '70s band, Mu. Cleveland's flute embellishments also allow the group to find subtle nuances in the characteristically enveloping, raga-esque "WWOD?" And the valedictory version of the Dead Kennedys' "Kinky Sex" is an authentic free jazz free-for-all that launches the band into thrilling progressive territory without losing anything to self-indulgence. Thin Shells of Revolution is a marvelous, pure expression, and it equals the earlier masterpiece, Universe I've Got, in almost every way.

Thin Shells of Revolution, Primordial Undermind
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