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Maher Shalal Hash Baz - Faux Depart

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Artist: Maher Shalal Hash Baz

Album: Faux Depart

Label: Yik Yak

Review date: Aug. 24, 2006

Tori Kudo's mysterious, long-lived project here sees a jewel-box'd reissue of a limited-edition tour release from 2003. The 22 songs herein, aside from a couple of live pieces, were recorded at Dub Narcotic, and include other participants like Deerhoof's Greg Saunier, Curtains' Chris Cohen, Open City's Andrew Maxwell, and others. Despite the number of songs, the CD totals only 34 minutes, as these are mostly short, straight-forward songs.

Maher Shalal Hash Baz has always been partially an exercise in primitivism, from its initial beginnings (documented recently on the wonderful Live 1984-85 CD from PSF) channelling the Velvet Underground through Kudo's unique approach to arrangements. This album feels like a small detour, a bit of an oddball even in Kudo's oddball career - a minor collection that feels like the tour-only souvenir it was.

The CD contains both songs and tidbits, a number of undifferentiated audio doodles. The songs are, as usual for Kudo, lo-fi and simple at heart, yet layered here with instruments like bassoon, drums, guitar, keyboards, and more. In some cases it works, but in others, like the title track, the additions distract from the essential basics of the song. The verses, with just Kudo singing over simple strummed guitar, are at odds with the breaks, in which his guitar plucking is simply augmented by too many distractions. The songs feel a bit like a ship with too many barnacles: it still works, but the inner elegance is obscured.

"A Will" is the only long piece here, at almost eight minutes. It's a very ramshackle construction, with drums that vary from simple propulsion to clattering rimshots, rickety guitar and bass, and odd horn playing that almost falls apart. Unfortunately, the results are not terribly listenable. There's a line dividing quaintly quirky from out of tune, and the off-key playing here is on the wrong side of that line.

A set of 13 sub-minute tidbits follows, the aforementioned audio doodles, themed around weather and nature - from "Cumulonimbus And Thunderstorm In A Morning" to "Lightning" and "Trees." These offer a jazzy sort of randomness, with horns, percussion, bass, and guitar squeaking, blurting, and quietly meandering. They're cute pieces, but eventually don't add up to anything much.

At the end, Faux Depart will doubtless be interesting to Maher Shalal Hash Baz fans, but is certainly not the place to start for those not yet familiar with Kudo's unique vision and approach. And even the fans may find this one tough going.

By Mason Jones

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