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Death Ambient - Drunken Forest

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Artist: Death Ambient

Album: Drunken Forest

Label: Tzadik

Review date: Sep. 13, 2007

The trio of Fred Frith, Kato Hideki and Ikue Mori deliver their third album almost seven years after its predecessor, and it is a stunning development. The multivalent sounds created during these 54 minutes eclipse anything the group has done before, making the wait well worth the while.

No longer sounding like a trio, Death Ambient has become a collective, presenting an extremely unified musical vision. As with many of Frith’s solo projects, sonic diversity is omnipresent, but here, no transition feels forced or unnaturally preconceived. “A Cocktail of Chemicals” is a fascinating study in morphing fragmentation, as what sounds like a bicycle wheel speeds up, slows down and stops, related remnants and fragments crackling on either side of the stereo spectrum. A similarly treated power chord enters, disintegrating as it switches octaves. It recedes, replaced by a rising tide of explosive thunder and, incredibly, a delicate transparency of bubbles that takes over the remainder of the track, picking up washes of electrostatic and rumble as it goes.

Far from all-encompassing atonality, Drunken Forest also boasts some gorgeous melodies, as on the achingly Orientalist title track. After the reverberant clack of claves, the ever resourceful Hideki proves himself as fine a violinist as he is a bassist. He builds layer upon layer of intertwining lines, the Death in Death Ambient rising menacingly underneath in waves of distorted Frith riffage and nastily inventive drum programming from Mori.

Perhaps it’s just a perfect juxtaposition of diversity and unity, the subtle interweaving of familiar and foreign, that makes the disc work as well as it does. It must have taken forever to mix, to achieve the precise sound balances, so that every moment bears a trace of familiarity before being slowly obliterated. Percussionist Jim Pugliese joins in on several of the tracks, but because the real and the sampled are so often indistinguishable, it can be hard to tell exactly when he’s playing. So much the better, as it means that he is at one with the trio’s aesthetic. If the group never made another album, their place in the history of rock-tinged experimentalism is secured with Drunken Forest.

By Marc Medwin

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