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Opening with a bang that builds to a thunderstorm, Exploded View is the definitive Steve Tibbets album. His electric guitar howls defiantly without a lot of power chords or convention, and his musicianship is top-notch, perhaps an Adrian Belew without the pop, plus a nod toward world music in production value. Tibbets scrapes and tears through the sky ("Name Everything," "Your Cat") with jaw-dropping intensity, but it would all be too much if there weren't such rich texture and softness folded into the disc as well. "Drawing Down the Moon" is a comparatively restrained piece with acoustic guitars, shakers, kalimba, congas, and a mixed bag of other percussives. A sort of unsettling warmth pulses throughout the track to pull the listener in and carry them along for a midnight desert drive. Another thing that sets this piece apart is its consistency in dynamics. On other tracks, the musicians run up and down the spectrum, but this one seems to be much more linear. Depending on your tastes, this could either be the best track on the album, or it may be the tame contradiction to the earthquake of music happening all around it. Either way, it's a welcome breather. The album is also a great showcase for Marc Anderson, a fantastic percussionist who shines here. He really understands the musical dialogue going on between himself and Tibbets' guitar. It's rare for one of them to lead or accompany the other — the symbiosis is such that you couldn't pry them apart with a crowbar, and any sheet music would still show their separate parts blurred together. The final minute of "A Clear Day and No Memories" is the only time Anderson leaves the room (probably to mop the sweat from his brow), and the tenderness of the acoustic guitar blooms like a single flower in a minefield. Songs like "The X Festival" give Anderson the almost impossible task of keeping up with himself, switching tempos, dynamics, and instruments repeatedly in a mere two-and-a-half minutes. The sweet harmonics of the tabla and the pounding waves of the bigger drums swell with urgency until the whole thing breaks apart with curious and unsettling abandon. Somewhere on the perimeter, Bob Hughes lays down the bass, but his contributions may be felt more than heard as he participates in the mix rather than adding anything new to it. Several moments have the feel of a tribal circle, accentuated by Claudia Schmidt, Bruce Henry, and Jan Reimer — talented vocalists providing wordless chants and passionate upswells. Schmidt is an especially good match in aesthetics; she shows up again in 1994's The Fall of Us All, which really came the closest to recapturing the spirit of this album. Look for it.

Exploded View, Bob Hughes
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