Greg Kelley has dipped his musical wick into numerous endeavors over the last decade, but he’s often shunned his solo career for the company of others. The fledgling Bostonian imprint Semata Productions is eager to point out that Self-Hate Index is one of the few efforts by Kelley to actually feature solo trumpet performance, free of undue processing or manipulation. These recordings feature Kelley going back to basics, playing alone, often in a simple acoustic set-up, but they’re no easier to digest than Kelley’s output in nmperign or Heathen Shame. Fans of Kelley’s exploits will hear lots of familiar sounds, though the squeaks, squeals and growls that Kelley forces from his instrument are certainly no direct relation to the trumpet’s typical output. Self-Hate Index is rife with microscopic sound and textures of an infinitesimal grit, but, as its title might imply, the album’s no sedate collection of sound experiments.
Kelley’s trumpet workouts use extended technique as a tool of bombast and assault. The tenor of the disc isn’t consistently aggressive, though a traditionalist might consider even some of Kelley’s most placid performances as some manner of instrument abuse. Breath through a mouthpiece becomes something wholly other, aided and abetted by effects and other tools. Distortion and feedback evoke the tone of a basement noise jam. Airy expulsions elicit alien winds and pneumatic machinery. A moist gurgle mimics the sound of household plumbing gone wrong. A single track, “These are Distractions,” movies from sharp bursts of air and high-pitched whines to an insistent Chewbacca purr to brassy bursts of rage, before an extended tone dies with Kelley’s faltering breath. Like educational films, in which the interior of the human body presents a well-known system in a wholly unfamiliar light, Self-Hate Index explores the trumpet, seemingly inside and out, and the results place the instrument in a new light. Like a fifth-grade boy emerging from health class with a new conception of himself and his female classmates, the unsuspecting who listen to Kelley may never hear a trumpet quite the same way again.
Self-Hate Index doesn’t represent an aesthetic watershed in Kelley’s career, but given how frequently the trumpet player finds himself in the company of others, this disc isn’t one to ignore. And if the album’s title isn’t facetious, Self-Hate Index should make Kelley feel pretty good about himself.