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Trapist / Kapital Band 1 - Ballroom / 2CD

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Artist: Trapist / Kapital Band 1

Album: Ballroom / 2CD

Label: Thrill Jockey / Mosz

Review date: Mar. 11, 2004

Over the course of a couple albums worth of material, Austrian trio Radian have effectively set themselves up in a curious DMZ between post-rock, European improv, and more experimental electronic aesthetics – sampling from the three without pledging allegiance to any. In large part, this is due to Martin Brandlmayr's excellent work behind the drums, meshing seamlessly with electronic rhythms or bashing out sly bursts of unexpected clatter. The newest releases from Trapist and Kapital Band 1, both of which feature Brandlmayr behind the kit in trio and duo forms respectively, find the drummer exploring the various facets of his reach in slightly different capacities. The former sets their considerable talents to work editing a fine batch of wildly varying sounds from a base of free-flowing improvisations, while the latter apply their skills towards loftier, more theoretical discourse.

With bassist Joe Williamson rounding out the lineup alongside guitarist Martin Stiewert, Trapist yields quite a collective CV of avant-leaning performance on Ballroom, their first long player for the Thrill Jockey clan. Over the course of four tracks, the trio veer wildly from blues-inspired guitar picking to dub-inflected rhythms and all the way back to throbbing noise assaults and vague tinges of heavy psych. After a debut record culled from a live performance, the trio improvised the basic tracks for their newest effort, placing the end results under the scalpel of the home studio for some overdubs and precise editing. The end result splits the difference, equally bristling with the personalities of three distinct performers while united under the mantle of one unified voice. While much has been said of a certain sparseness surrounding Trapist's music, there is a warmth and vitality that courses throughout the sounds contained herein. "Time Axis Manipulation," the two-part piece that opens Ballroom, shows just how deeply affecting this pensive deliberation can be. Starting with gentle rhythms and bare melodic strums, the piece winds itself around an air of hums and drones. But whereas other groups might be inclined to shrug off the unabashedly melodic, Trapist basks in it, working gracefully, and somewhat nonchalantly, towards the conclusion. The second half initially broaches dub, countered by sawing, sea-sick electronics that launch into waves of cacophony.

The remaining pieces on the disc imbue the same aesthetics to varying directions. "Observations Took Place" works an uneasy groove into one massive, glorious drone that shimmers with intensity, while "The Meaning of Flowers" broods a careful melody over the course of an understated rhythmic terrain. The drums are free to scamper and kick, while the guitars and bass gently work off each other in a haze of electronics. Any remaining loose ends are tied together neatly by the sprawling "For All the Time Spent in This Room." As with much of the music here, this track is equally aimless, but in the best possible way – alive with possibility and open to the suggestion of simple sounds and melodies, working itself into subtle heavenliness to end the affair.

While the majority of Trapist's music is subtle in the respect that each musician says only what is absolutely necessary, Kapital Band 1 is more traditionally spare. While the former feels fully-formed, the music of 2CD (released through Stefen Nemeth of Radian's new label Mosz) revels in both conceptual and sonic paradoxes that Brandlmayr and partner Nicholas Bussmann seem more interested in creating than resolving. Case in point: as the title implies, 2CD is indeed a double-disc set. The second disc, however, is a blank CD-R, which the band donates to the listener to do with what they please.

Musically, the sounds on 2CD feel more distant and deliberate. These tracks too are largely cut from improvised recording sessions, and yet the end result feels far more studied. The music here pops with funk and hints occasionally at traditional pop structures, but doesn't dwell on much for long, preferring to dance around those structures as much as confront them.

"Yes" appropriates hyper kinetic break beats, matching Brandlmayr's deft rhythms against some neat electronics courtesy of Bussmann. "This Is What We Want" is more direct in its approach, going with a more overt funk route as the duo matches each other rhythmically before allowing their constituent parts to disintegrate. "The New Car," although unfortunately brief, issues force a nice burst of steam against a crackling set of electronics. "Survival Kit" is equally great as well, marrying a skittering beat to a headrush of clicks and pops that is as bubbling as it is frenetic.

The main ideology that differentiates Kapital Band from Trapist, however, is often the one thing that mars the listening experience on 2CD. Despite Bussman's propensity for intriguing electronic textures and Brandlmayr's command of his instruments, the duo displays an alarming knack for quickly abandoning ideas. As ideas are raised and sounds created, one wonders if the duo is pursuing some relentless strain of creativity or just being unnecessarily hyperactive. There is a wealth of intriguing soundscapes here; unfortunately, some seem tossed aside too quickly, without as much as a second glance.

Over the course of these two discs, Brandlmayr in particular showcases his development at the helm of his drumset, either expanding the supple waves of Trapist's body of work or applying clipped rhythms as a counterpoint to the electronics in Kapital Band 1. Ballroom is easily the more consistently rewarding of the two records, lending a casual air to rich sonic terrain that's as effortless at times as it is invigorating. 2CD is no real slouch either, but rather than examine the possibilities of what has already arrived, Kapital Band 1 are incessant in their direction shifts. Not that unbridled creativity is a problem or anything, mind you. There is, however, something to be said for the scenic, circuitous route.

By Michael Crumsho

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