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Burnt Hills - Tonite We Ride

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Artist: Burnt Hills

Album: Tonite We Ride

Label: Flipped Out

Review date: Nov. 19, 2008

Burnt Hills are an oxymoron Ė a weird amalgam of the familiar and the strange. The notion of an ever-growing bunch of middle-aged folks in Albany, N.Y., getting together every Monday night and jamming on psychedelic tunes brings a certain picture to mind ... and itís not a pretty one. Filter that through a musical diet focused more in the Skullflower direction than Phish, however, and the image gets a bit more interesting.

At the same time, it seems as though thereís surfeit of CD-R bands, tossing out disc after disc of noisy fuzzed-out riffage, once again invoking the best-known version of Sturgeonís Law: "Ninety percent of everything is crap." The trick for these bands is remembering that music needs to be more than fun to play; it needs to be fun to hear, too. On Tonite We Ride, Burnt Hills make a fairly good effort.

With a membership of nearly a dozen at full capacity, including at times multiple drummers and enough guitarists to satisfy Glenn Branca, Burnt Hillsí noise potential is pretty high, even with a xylophone player in the mix. On Tonite We Ride, the lineup only has four guitarists, lone bass and drum players, and the xylophone, but they still manage to open with a thick blast that bodes well. Head-nodding drums and heavily fuzzed riffage provide a pretty strong start, and the band does manage to peak a few times throughout the album.

Offered as a single hour-long track, the CD unfolds as a series of movements, from the opening riffs through random noisemaking and cymbal rattling, before getting down to serious droning and skittering blobs of feedback. The seven players are clearly listening to each other, and they respond fairly well to changes. Nonetheless, the improvisational format and the number of players inevitably means that there are no clear breaks Ė it takes a bit of time for everyone to settle on the same page.

Similarly, hour-long improvisations inevitably consist of high and low points. The question that every improv group has asked themselves is: to edit or not to edit? Itís obviously wonderful to present a performance exactly as it was played from start to finish, as Burnt Hills have seemingly opted to do here. But editing, while it may disturb the purity of the performance, often does the audience a favor. Is it pandering to try to ensure that listeners hear a group at its best?

Either way, on Tonite We Ride, Burnt Hills give a warts-and-all performance, during which thereís plenty of aimless noodling and unhinged squalling sandwiched between periods of cohesion. When the rhythm section dials in a riff, at least some of the guitars find their way around to complementary playing, and the results can be pretty great. But all too often the proceedings fall apart into random noisemaking while one or two players refuse to give up on their own creations. The albumís high points may be worth it, if your tolerance for anarchy is high enough.

By Mason Jones

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