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Album Review

Grindstone is the fourth album — and second on Rune Grammofon — by Norway's completely unclassifiable Shining. The band contains two former members of Jaga Jazzist (including multi-instrumentalist Jørgen Munkeby), which took hard bop jazz in a whole different direction on the Ninja Tune label, and power bassist Aslak Hartberg from hip-hop duo Klovner i Kamp. There is little in the way of hard bop here — although there are some Chet Baker-styled synth lines in "Winterreise." What is here is, well, what the hell do you call this music, this gargantuan noise of harmonic collision, layered instruments, sampled woodwinds, guitars, basses, and drums and drums and drums (machine and actual) — and what are they trying to do? Who cares? They already did it. Grindstone, like its predecessor, In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster, is a complete thing of its own. From metallic prog rock and synthetic percussion and samples comes a music that weds classical and the absurd. From the notion of jazz composition and shifting rhythms comes clattering barely uncontrolled chaos that somehow manages to keep melody, modality, and dissonance perfectly balanced. From the avant-garde comes a sense of raw childlike invention that gives the spirit of "play" free rein. One need only listen to "Stalemate Logan Runner" to find it all in place — where huge synths create a heavy metal riff that gives way to cheesy Casio keyboards playing a lilting melody as a synth bass waits its turn to let loose. Big monstrous guitar noise à la King Crimson's "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 2" cut loose with syncopated rhythms and knotty lead lines and arpeggios before swirling blessed-out synths cover it all. The piece finally ends with the sound of a harpsichord playing a prelude. There is a song named after a Morse code symbol, another after their previous album, and something of numerical interest in "Psalm," which is among the truly strangest things here, introduced as it is with heavily vocodered singing highlighted by a Rhodes, muted blips and beeps, and a melody line played on an organ. It builds instrumentally and harmonically with layers of noise flitting in and out, wordless female operatic vocals crossing the center of the mix, and sequencers and oscillators finding their way inside the melody. From its relatively gentle beginnings comes a track of absolute drama and menace — but it is all done with a rueful smile. Shining want to mess with you, they want to mess with themselves, and above all they want to mess with music. It makes no different that they don't have a category; these cats are among the most sophisticated of the new European generation that listens to absolutely everything and learns to play it, too. On repeated listening to Grindstone, one cannot help but think that both Frank Zappa and Charles Mingus — especially in his later years — would have loved this orderly disorder, this apparent madness that is both wise and wry, and that lets its outrageousness become part of the aesthetic. Fantastic!


Formed: Norway

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

Norway's the Shining specialize in a genre-hopping prog-jazz style that is part bop, part experimental composition, part rock, and might even be called jazz-metal, although specific labels have a hard time sticking firmly to this intriguing quartet. The group morphed out of the ten-piece Jaga Jazzist ensemble, which the Shining's main man, multi-instrumentalist Jørgen Munkeby, joined when he was only 16 years old. With former Jaga keyboardist Morten Qvenild, the Shining recorded Sweet Shanghai Devil...
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