The last time this blog was in the house at a Brandon Seabrook show, it was last month in Newark and he was playing elegant, allusively evil banjo throughout the darker sections of Cecile McLorin Salvant’s macabre, epic big band masterpiece, Ogresse. The evil on Seabrook’s new trio album Convulsionaries (streaming at Bandcamp) with bassist Henry Fraser and cellist Daniel Levin is much messier. If you’re thinking of going to Seabrook’s next gig, at Bar Lunatico on Dec 10 at 8:30 with Cooper-Moore on diddley bow and Gerald Cleaver on drums, this is a good way to pregame. This music is often deliberately ugly, cynical, perverse, and generally pretty dark but also full of unexpected subtlety and occasional sardonic humor.
There’s a lot of reverb on the cello, to the point where the textures make it seem that there are two guitars in the mix. The titles of the album’s six tracks, a twisted, highly improvisational theme and variations, are unpronounceable – phony computer code, maybe? The first one starts out as a skronkathon with some neat polyrhythms (Fraser and Levin following very closely in turn, actually). Then the three build to a suspenseful neoromantic peak before the squiggle and skronk return.
The second track has a hypnotic no wave piledriver pulse that breaks down off and on: imagine the Ex covering Louis Andriessen circa 1979. The shivery bumblebee-on-acid outro is choice.
Track three switches out tightly circling skronk in place of the piledriver effect, bass and cello doubling each others’ lines in stereo, with a deliciously slithery mudfight between the two midway through.
Listen closely to the guitar as track four convulses and you may think of a famous Led Zip riff – until the trio take a long trip down into desolation valley before leapfrogging and sputtering back up. Creepy belltones and a hammerheaded three-way duel also figure in this almost nine-minute epic.
A storm, a war, or at least a Frankenstein creation loom in as track five gathers steam, Levin’s steady, menacing riffage holding it together while Seabrook builds zombies-in-space motives. A silly ape-scratching interlude gives way to a flitting, insectile milieu and then more lingering, reverbtoned moroseness before Seabrook starts flinging skronk and shred at anything within reach. The final cut has the most traditional conversational counterpoint of any of the other tracks, even as the guitar and the rhythm go further and further off the rails. Fraser’s abrasive, overtone-laden, percussive scrapes evoke a chromatic blues harp, an unexpected, sick sonic treat. The menace is all the more resonant for the way it all ends. On one hand, this album will clear a certain crowd from the room, fast. But maybe that’s what you want.