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(VxPxC) - Porchmass

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Artist: (VxPxC)

Album: Porchmass

Label: Digitalis

Review date: Jul. 19, 2007

Porchmass, the most recent addition to (VxPxC)'s always growing, tremendous catalog of improvisational ambient noise, is the act's first foray into the world of properly pressed CDs. A crypto-religious homage to the dusty, dusky LA sunset, this brief divergence from the CD-R landscape doesn't find the trio embracing any sort of new maximalist production ethos; quite the opposite. Recorded entirely on member Tim Goodwillie's porch, the disc finds loops of crunchy static, ambient synth surges, and a sleepy sounding accordion ornamented with various pots, pans and other sub-lo fi kitchen accessories.

The employment of metal cookware as percussion resonates in some weird ways, both figuratively and literally. The first off-kilter tap heard in "Shady Grace" awakens memories of everyone's earliest moments of pre-amateur musical experimentation; the discovery that banging on different pieces of cookware, with different utensils, yields interesting variations. The thumps and clangs mimic the sloppiness of incipient, childlike attempts at creating rhythm.

In that tendency towards lazy, hazy percussive elements lay both the upswing and the down side of Porchmass. The unique juxtaposition of electronic surges with oddball instrumentation is interesting, and the way it works, when it works, is certainly evocative of dusty summer twilight and a sweaty evening spent sitting on the porch, dinking away with whatever instruments happen to be on hand. There are points, though, where the bowl tapping, accordion honking, and guitar strumming seem self-consciously languid, almost too intentionally childlike. In "We Miss You Lightning Bugs," a creaky, crunchy loop of static, meanders along and the percussion meanders more. You wait, frustrated, for a pay-off in the form of a crescendo, and it never arrives. The sounds never quite intersect.

It's possible that this itchy refusal of Porchmass to find resolution is partially what (VxPxC) had in mind as they walked outside to record their latest idiosyncratically instrumented jam session. That’s not to say that the disc is without aesthetically satisfying moments. "Iron Bonnie B.," for instance, most accurately actualizes the disc’s worshipful title. Held together by an accordion surge that occasionally peters out and returns, the improvisation feels fuller than some of the others, like it’s going somewhere. The sounds of a plucked string instrument and a chiming xylophone combine, weirdly yet meaningfully, with the accordion’s throb to make for a track that succeeds at creating the wonder to which the whole disc aspires.

If you're looking for experimental improv that weaves in between chaos and order, one full of driving noise, space-rock lulls, or free-jazz tinged skronks, you won’t find it in the acoustic minimalism and calculated amateurism of Porchmass. Though the disc’s take on simpler times can, at times, sound a little too simple, it’s worth checking out if you're interested in listening in on unique atmospheres, even ones that tend to grate and frustrate. When the mal-tuned guitars, accordion laze, xylophone, bubbling electronic loops bounce off of each other in just the right way, they’re able to sum up a certain kind of arid summer evening.

By Matthew A. Stern

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