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D. Rider - Mother of Curses

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Artist: D. Rider

Album: Mother of Curses

Label: Tizona

Review date: Feb. 13, 2009

It’s a bleak, blasted world, this latest project from U.S .Maple’s Todd Rittman. Barb-studded basslines traverse chaotic saxophone and guitar. Exhausted, whispered voices trace post-apocalyptic images of war, environmental collapse and failed human connection. Like U.S. Maple, D. Rider builds abstract geometries of harsh, colliding sounds. Yet unlike that band – and more like Rittman’s 2007 project, Singer – vocals have been tuned and tamed, words clear enough to unspool lurid wasteland imagery. Notes coalesce into soul-falsetto trills and flourishes.

Rittman formed D. Rider in early 2008, with keyboard player (and cornetist) Andrea Faught and saxophonist Noah Tabakin. Rittman plays drums, guitar, bass and unspecified “strings,” and also seems to be the main composing force behind the project. The liner notes list him as “Deathrider” (apparently that’s what the “D” stands for).

When he brought the group together, Rittman set some unusual rules for Mother of Curses. Ordinary objects like magic markers and spray paint cans could be instruments. Tom toms – as opposed to snare, kick drum, high hat and ride cymbal – could not. (The first track, titled “Arranged Marriage to no Toms” commemorates this aesthetic decision.) Everything had to start with a drum beat of some sort – and to be recorded on 16 tracks or less.

The result is a slinky, spiky, minimalist groove, clanking like some kind of extinct, rusty machinery. Lyrics are impressionistic, insinuated over heaving rhythms in not-quite-linear blurts of imagery, but they seem to consider the place of music in times of conflict. “Is the west treating you right?” asks Rittman in the slack funk zombie march of “Dew Claw Don’t Claw. “Should they turn down the war / for you to enjoy your noise / in peace and silence?” How, it seems to ask, can anyone take art or music seriously when civilization has gone into a nosedive from which it may never recover?

War imagery turns up throughout the album, in the skittery-rhythmed “Body to Body (to Body)” and the ambiguously lovely “Welcome Out” (which seems to consider the aftermath of conflict or perhaps just death). But you could also read concerns about the environment into “Dear Blocks.” Rittman repeatedly observes that “as it kills its hostess / the parasite does its best,” a metaphor that fits our late, feeble efforts to contain global warming. You could, naturally, ignore all this and simply concentrate on the menace, the hiss and scratch and discord of the music itself, which is plenty disquieting on its own.

Dark and threatening as it is, Mother of Curses isn’t without moments of tranquility (“Welcome Out”) and even humor. “Touchy” puts a clanking no wave bass under the disc’s most body-moving cadence, with Rittman murmuring insinuations about all the things you can be if you “touch it” (a cowboy, a princess, etc.). The moment of levity seems to suggest, if we’re all going to die anyway, why not get together for a last-second hook-up? Better hurry, though, because it’s pretty getting dark out there.

By Jennifer Kelly

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