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Pit er Pat - The Flexible Entertainer

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Artist: Pit er Pat

Album: The Flexible Entertainer

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Jan. 14, 2010

The CDDB entry for The Flexible Entertainer lists eight different genres for eight different tracks, some real, some made up, one simply “Pit Er Pat.” In most cases, you’d ignore such posturing (okay, genre classifications are mostly bullshit, what else have you got?), but in this instance, there’s a kernel of truth. Though they share a certain over-arching aesthetic – complicated rhythms, unsettling riffs, jump-rope chanting, a bat cave sense of dim, three-dimensional space – these tracks are wildly different from each other, as well as most easy reference points. Soundtrack, hip hop, new wave, no wave, dub, dub-step, Latin and vaguely Middle Eastern sounds flare up and fade suddenly. By the time you’re sure you’ve heard them – hiccupy cuica on “Chavez Raven”, lone melodica on “Specimen” – they’re gone.

Flexible Entertainer is Pit Er Pat’s first album since bassist Rob Doran left following 2008’s High Time. You can hear the two remaining principles – drummer and multi-instrumentalist Butchy Fuego and singer Fay Davis-Jeffers – feeling out the empty space, coloring some of it with jittery drum beats , waif-ish croons and blotchy, blobby tones of synth, but leaving a good bit of it empty. As much as anything, the record seems to be about holding the dark at bay, with stabbing riffs that jut at odd angles into the void, with frantic, interlocked rhythms that echo over silent spaces, with dance-syncopated sing-songs darting and fading into impenetrable gloom.

The disc takes its time getting going, shape-shifting through cinematic “Intro,” hip-hoppish “Water,” chilly new wave “Nightroom.” The opening three-song run is where you feel the disparate-ness the most, its songs not quite taking on their own identity, conceptually sketched rather than fully imagined. “Godspot,” about halfway through, is where the album finds its feet, all nervy prettiness and claustrophobic grace. The guitar riff pens the song in, circling in a narrow range of notes like a pendulum, while the vocals pound against the limits, fluttering, sing-song, a playground chant gone apocalyptic.

From there on, the rhythms turn stranger, denser and more intense, picking up bits of Tropicalia, Arabia, Africa as they tumble and clatter on. The final three cuts – “Emperor of Charms,” “Chavez Ravine” and “Specimen” – are the album’s best, their hot clamor of percussion boiling against cooler, more electronic elements. “Chavez Raven” and “Specimen” share a single repeated riff, the notes running up a minor chord, stopping at the top uncertainly and then tumbling back down. Even so, the tracks could not be more different, “Chavez Ravine” tricked out in Latin slink and scrape, “Specimen” enveloped in dark dub-like reverb.

Flexible Entertainer is, perhaps, a contradiction. By contorting their own aesthetic around an odd lot of contradictory influences, Pit Er Pat may be sacrificing some immediate entertainment value. Still, it’s worth listening again to begin to hear the commonalities emerge, in the way that silence frames dense syncopation of sound, the way that ideas criss-cross in intricate geometrical patterns.

By Jennifer Kelly

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