CD: Maor Appelbaum MAP001 [2004]

Alone suffering and screaming (4/11/1999)
Out-law (3/2/2000)
The last one (4/5/2000)
Space dogs of war (9/7/2000)
Experiments (1/9/1999)
Coming home (14/4/2000)
Printing images (17/3/2000)
The morning after (4/1/2000)

The second release to come my way this month from Israeli egomaniac Maor Appelbaum, this one led me to expect a collection of low-frequency drones, going by the title. But an inspection of the inlay card reveals all - the name refers to the fact that it consists entirely of the processed sounds of bass guitars. Not that this is obvious from the music! In fact I'd listened to the CD a couple of times, none the wiser, before I bothered reading the liner notes. If you think that means my critical skills suck then I dare you to pick it out of a line-up in a blind listening test. I don't know how much is live performance with effects pedals and how much is digital manipulation and editing, but the chimes, throbs, sweeps and drones sounds that make up this album are like nothing I've heard a bass produce before.

It has to be said - brutal honesty time - that the album's impact is somewhat hampered by the poor choice of opening track. 'Alone Suffering And Screaming' is atonal and arrhythmic in all the wrong ways, meaning it sounds pointlessly unwieldy rather than daringly experimental. But having got that out of the way, the rest of the album has some mesmerising, expressive and occasionally beautiful soundscapes in store. 'Out-law' and 'Coming Home' touch on the fringes of Coil's more ambient realms, while "The Morning After" could almost be Throbbing Gristle in space-out mode. I'd love to see how something like "Printing Images" would work as a performance piece, but to achieve that density and depth of sound would require three or four bassists plus a floor gimp running between them and adjusting their pedals at the right moments.

There's a warm lo-fi fuzziness to it all that sets it apart from a lot of modern avant-garde music, part of which is undoubtedly due to Appelbaum's trademark production style (see my Vectorscope review), but some of which must surely be down to pick-up noise from the basses themselves. Every so often you can make out a twang or pop that sounds like a string being plucked, and each time it's a surprise. The aptly-named 'Experiments' contains the only recognisable guitar playing on the whole album, and while it works texturally, it comes across as a bit ad-hoc musically, sitting unfomcortably on the drones and pulses without much actual integration. For that matter, the rising and falling patterns on "The Last One" sound a little too much like the arpeggiated keyboards of 70s prog rock for comfort. Think Rick Wakeman in a cape. But the fact that Appelbaum's managed to tease such sounds out of a bass guitar at all is quite an achievement. Ten out of ten for purity of process but a little more selectivity might help.


[Screening] / [Maor Appelbaum]

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