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The Spectrum Between

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Album Review

Late in the career of Gastr del Sol, David Grubbs and Jim O'Rourke sought respite from their experimental habits. The group had spent five years deconstructing the song form. On compositions like 1996's "Our Exquisite Replica of 'Eternity'" (from Upgrade & Afterlife), they left little behind. Having reached a temporary dead end, they turned to more conventional song structures, adorning them with beautiful melodies. The resulting Camoufleur (the group's swan song) was the perfect balance of their cerebral musings and wide-eyed pop. While O'Rourke continued after the breakup of the group like a child with a new toy (furthering his pop ambitions on Eureka and Halfway to a Threeway), Grubbs followed with a series of more esoteric works. It's refreshing, then, to hear how comfortable he seems on the relaxed settings of The Spectrum Between. Though not quite as elaborate as Camoufleur, Spectrum represents a return to simple pleasures.

As support, Grubbs has enlisted marquee names on the indie/improv/experimental scene. John McEntire lends his drum work for the umpteenth time. Mats Gustafsson, Daniel Carter, and Noel Akchote also guest. Spectrum offers a convincing argument for the musical inbreeding so common in Grubbs' circle. Everyone makes tasteful additions that enrich the singer's fine guitar playing and unadorned vocals. McEntire's multilayered drumming and Akchote's knotted guitar lines propel "Whirlweek." Gustafsson and Carter create new structures over Grubbs' foundation on "Stanwell Perpetual."

There are enough protruding edges on Spectrum to remind the listener of Grubbs' more experimental leanings. Just when "Preface" should fade to conclusion, the most bizarre moment follows: a baboon has an argument with a haywire synth as drum cymbals try to reason with the two. "Gloriette" stretches into a wonderful section of Gustafsson's alien saxophone articulations and a duo of piercing guitar lines.

Spectrum also represents a further refinement of Grubbs' peculiar lyrical language. Verses often consist of puzzling wordplay. "Scarab, seedpod, serpentine," he sings on "Two Shades of Green," "Shaded spruce, siamese." "Whirlweek"'s opening couplet might explain the methodology: "Toss the dart/Wherever it lands — that's the center." Grubbs' approach once gave his music a feel of austerity; here, the playful and carefree delivery ensures approachability.


Born: 21 September 1967 in Louisville, KY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

An important figure in the post-rock and experimental music communities, guitarist, pianist, and vocalist David Grubbs made an especially strong impact on the indie music scene during his ten-year residence in Chicago. Originally hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, Grubbs was a member of Bastro and Squirrel Bait before teaming up with Jim O'Rourke in Gastr del Sol. That band issued a number of critically acclaimed albums in the mid-'90s before O'Rourke split to pursue solo projects and focus on his...
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The Spectrum Between, David Grubbs
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