Guitar Goddess Mary Halvorson Makes a Rock Record – Sort Of
The people who call themselves People – fiery jazz guitarist Mary Halvorson, irrepressible drummer Kevin Shea (of NYC’s funnest jazz group, Mostly Other People Do the Killing) and bassist Kyle Forester (from Crystal Stilts) have a new album titled 3xaWoman (The Misplaced Files) streaming at Telegraph Records’ site. It’s a riot, and it’s worth owning on vinyl, which is especially cool because it’s actually available in that format. The trio are playing what might or might not be the album release show at Death by Audio at 10 PM on July 2 if you’re in town.
Halvorson turns out to be an excellent singer, with a clear, balmy, attractive voice that contrasts with the snarl and menace of her guitar – any discussion of important guitarists in 2014 needs to have her front and center. Forester plays snaky, melodic lines along with Shea’s restless, tumbling, rumbling attack that sometimes provides comic relief against the guitar’s savage burn.
The album opens with a slow, moody, Twin Peaksian horn theme (that’s Peter Evans on trumpet, Sam Kulik on trombone and Dan Peck on tuba). The first of the funny numbers is called These Words Make Up the Lyrics of the Song, which quickly decays to a noisy improvisational interlude that becomes a very precisely choreographed exchange of ideas – and yet sounds completely random unless you listen closely. What’s So Woman About That Woman is a short, bristling hardcore tune, followed by A Song with Melody and Harmony and Words and Rhythm, which takes a brooding early 70s-style art-rock/Britfolk ballad and edges more menacingly toward noiserock. Lyrical jokes aside, just hearing Halvorson – one of the prime movers from Anthony Braxton’s avant garde circle – playing simple barre chords is funny all by itself.
The album’s most relevant song is the barely minute-long but cruelly spot-on Supersensible Hydrofracked Dystopia!!! The band follows that with a loopy oompah interlude, a snide acoustic parody of sorts and then Inoperable Intertrigo, a creepy, slowly marching blend of outsider jazz-inflected postrock and peak-era Sonic Youth.
Piles for Miles starts out suspiciously like a spoof of Bushwick meh-core indie pop and then works a dreampop/post-My Bloody Valentine vein. Another really short one, Psychic Recapitulation has some tasty, eerie guy-girl vocal harmonies. The Virtuous Relapse is one of the funniest numbers, with a punchline that’s too good to spoil. The Caveman Connection offers more dark punk rock humor, Halvorson’s calm vocals contrasting with a sludgy Melvins backdrop.
The funniest song here – and the funniest song of the year, bar none – is titled The Lyrics Are Simultaneously About How This Song Starts. Again, the jokes are too good to spoil – let’s just say that even if you don’t play music or write songs, it’s LMFAO good. The last song is an acoustic fragment that wouldn’t be out of place on Guided by Voices’ latest album. Who would have thought that such an unlikely lineup would end up having so much fun together, let alone make such a great record?