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Activities of Dust - A New Mind

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Artist: Activities of Dust

Album: A New Mind

Label: Adluna

Review date: Jul. 2, 2009

A super-group for sound nerds, the line-up for Activities of Dust will have ears perking before a single note has been heard. A pet project of percussionist Doug Scharin (HiM, Rex, June of 44), A New Mind assembles and edits hours upon hours of recorded feedback from Scharin’s varied and lengthy recording career. To build upon these frameworks, he also enlisted heterogeneous bassist and producer Bill Laswell, Chicago-based jazz guitarist Jeff Parker, and keyboard luminary Bernie Worrell. While the album is unfortunately more of a studio creation than a live jam session, A New Mind still delivers an intriguing package from this talented quartet.

The music makes complete sense for the players involved. Directed by Scharin, it takes on a deeply rhythmic post-rock guise, anchored in the style’s most defining characteristics of the late-1990s boom. His drum work leans to the more rigid direction of rock (versus a more free, jazzy-style of playing), but it provides a much-needed spine for the other musicians’ swirling cascades of melody. Laswell’s penchant (if such a varied musician can have such) for dub-inspired bass lines are the only other grounding force. When he underpins the ambient sprawl, such as on “Return to the Original Matrix,” it really flips the song’s vibe on end. Suddenly it’s not as much an exercise on manipulated feedback, but a head-nodding groove home to a number of stylistic eras.

Being that Parker was the first to flesh out Scharin’s feedback-based compositions, he’s the main supplier of melody. Like his contributions to Tortoise, Isotope217 and the like, his playing is warm, sinuous and deceptively simple. The melodies, closer to outlines or etchings than discernable themes, spring unmethodically out of the cascades of sound provided by the other players. Its effect is almost puzzle-like: the pieces shift and wander until a specific motif arises out of the randomness.

Worrell keys are the album’s flesh and tone. As he has done for decades on end, his unorthodox keyboard rifts amplify the effectiveness of the other contributions while also adding a touch of electric funk in the most unsuspecting places. What would be a dubby post-rock piece, solid in its execution but sans personality, becomes a tweaking and snarling ode to early ’70s experimentation.

The four tracks of A New Mind showcase the quartet’s proven talent, but these pieced-together productions do tend to dilute each musician’s potency. There’s an air of predictability to the accumulation of sounds, something that might have been avoided had Activities of Dust played off each other instead of just the tape.

By Michael Ardaiolo

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