Monday, March 12, 2018

Cassette Review:
The Vardaman Ensemble
"Is Land"
(SDM Records)

$5 //
Edition of 100 //

Anyone who has been following along with my reviews (And, honestly, if someone out there is reading every single review I post, thank you so very much) knows that two aspects of music I have really enjoyed lately have been duos and sounds related to jazz.   The idea that this is The Vardaman Ensemble makes me believe it will have a jazz type of sound to it- and it does- so going forward can I just assume all ensembles are jazz related?  Send me ensembles that aren't jazz to prove me wrong, please.

"Is Land" begins with someone talking who I presume to be a teacher addressing a class but even if it's an adult talking to other adults in a different setting it still has that classroom feel to it.   The teacher says they are going to be watching a film, which is maybe not a documentary as much as one of those educational type films.    You can imagine this situation being in school with kids for sex ed for example or even as you get older for learning to drive when they show you all those horrific crashes.   The film itself, however, in this specific instance is noted on the official Bandcamp page so you can gain further information there.

It is also worth noting that between songs (sometimes after two, sometimes after one) there are more of these audio clips keeping this theme alive throughout the cassette.   It's kind of neat but shouldn't distract you from the music itself as that should be the real focus here, though I do imagine this cassette being unearthed thousands of years from now and being played somehow turning from the source to the subject.    "Remember a time when music was not created by robots and was created for pleasure?"   Yeah, it could happen in the future, though I suppose no one wants to think of "thousands of years from now" because most people want the world to end with them.

Driving guitars give off a feel of traffic.  It's noisy and there are horns but this is at a faster pace than I am used to hearing such jazz.   Elements of Awkward Geisha, for example, as one of the more recent artists I've heard.   There's this punk, yet almost math rock energy to the music as well.   To call this any form of jazz is to neglect that raw energy and how it makes these songs different from any artist I've heard doing this recently.   It could be somewhere between Trans Siberian Orchestra and Streetlight Manifesto, which I know is quite the bridge to gap.

One aspect of these songs are that the drumming, the horns, the guitar work, it's all just above and beyond what it should be.   Sometimes I can forgive an artist if the drum work is mediocre.   That is to say, if a band has a horn section as their main focus then their guitars and drums could get by at a certain level of talent.    Hidden in the background, you don't pay as much attention to them so if they don't seem as stand out-ish you don't hold it against them.   But all aspects of this ensemble are standing out to me.

"Algorithmic Travel Through the Laws of the Average" has this way of just banging out the sounds while making guitar parts which remind me of Nirvana/sludge in some weird way and it's not exactly like them but it is something to hear because of the way it does resemble them.    On the flip side we have the notion that Vardaman means, in short, that if you believe in something strongly enough it will become a reality.    While I don't believe this to be true in the sense of science (No matter how hard you believe you can fly, you're going to fall to your death-- sorry, R. Kelly) I believe it was The Boss Baby who said "Whether you think you can or you think you can't you're right".

The songs on Side B come out harder, faster and somewhat more like they are in space than the side before.   It's just that strange quality that I can't put my finger on where these songs have that free jazz feel to them, but then they also have these crushing guitar chords that make it feel heavy.   It's not metal, but it's unlike anything I (and probably you) have ever heard before which gives it added value.   In some ways, I feel like this could have been released in the time when I first heard The Dismemberment Plan and Sweep the Leg Johnny, though it seems just as revolutionary now as it would have back then.

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