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Spill - Stockholm Syndrome

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Artist: Spill

Album: Stockholm Syndrome

Label: Al Maslakh

Review date: May. 10, 2012

Al Maslakh was founded to feature experimental and improvised work from Lebanese artists or performances by foreigners in Lebanese venues. I’m a little uncertain, then, where Stockholm Syndrome fits in. Pianist Magda Mayas is German, and drummer Tony Buck, Australian by birth, has lived in Japan and in different parts of Europe, but seemingly never in the Lebanese Republic. The two performances that make up the disc were recorded far from the Mediterranean, in Helsinki and Oslo. This increases the confusion even further — why invoke the name of Stockholm when the music was recorded in two other Nordic capitals? Ours is not to reason why, I suppose. At least Spill is consistent: The music of Stockholm Syndrome isn’t exactly that of conclusive answers or forthright statements, either.

The two 2010 performances that make up Stockholm Syndrome are similar in character. Both tracks feature Mayas and Buck largely eschewing the conventional sound of their instruments, playing a scattered, kitchen-sink variety of improvisation. Mayas pays little attention to the black and white keys of her instrument; instead, she plays its innards, creating shiny crescendos with scrapes of its wires and plucking prepared strings, or even, from the sound of it, letting loose objects rattle about in the instrument’s body. Buck’s credited as playing drums, but it’s rare for long stretches that one hears an easily identifiable drum. Buck’s arsenal focuses more on bells, cymbals, and other tools of clank and clatter. It’s at Stockholm Syndrome‘s most chaotic moments that the drums and piano sound most like themselves, but even then, there’s something amiss in the ruckus, an off-kilter quality to the music’s boil. Even at full tilt, the album moves with an erratic gait.

The music comes on like an intermittent rain, the sort of spring shower that can go from a sprinkle to a deluge and back again in the span of a few minutes, its fluctuations in intensity occurring quickly, and without warning. Stockholm Syndrome has little magnetism; it’s an album that requires a concerted ear, and is inconsistent in its rewards. At times, the individual sounds that Buck and Mayas are making are more interesting than the whole they create in tandem, and the music can move so quickly that its best moments are quickly dashed against the rocks while Mayas and Buck move on to something new. Like a debate waged in made-up languages, improv of this sort can be frustratingly difficult to pin down, but that can be part of the appeal.

By Adam Strohm

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