Tipping Point review

interesting review here of Tipping Point Cdr with Andrew from Fluid Radio

Bob Dylan’s almost annual nomination for the Nobel Prize in literature receives predictable resistance. Popular music is the result of months of crafting and rehearsal, weeks of recording, countless hours of production and mastering. The process is invisible to the listener, and there are many rewards to be found, even in a brief, three-minute song: a catchy, repeating hook. A potent, repeating chorus and rhyme structure. Literature is nearly the opposite, wearing its process as skin. There is no way to rehearse a book without simply writing it, so the novelist discovers the story in essentially the same way that the reader does, by turning its pages. Rewards are much fewer, and subjective. Patterns are difficult to discern. The opposition insists that Dylan should not be considered for the Nobel Prize for literature simply because songwriting is not literature.

Can we say, then, that improvised music is much more literary than other music? That the creative process is laid bare, measure for measure, and the rewards are fewer, unconventional? That its patterns are fleeting, although purer in form, perhaps elemental?

If so, Tipping Point by David Birchall and Andrew Cheetham is no exception. Birchall and Cheetham (guitar and drums, respectively) met early last year, when performing for Rhys Chatham’s G3 ensemble. From the one-sheet, “Tipping Point is the culmination of endless jamming and working deep into each others psyche, delving into the dark corridors of their deconstructed improv drone-rock.” This is not just empty promotional copy. The text here is raw, chaotic, as if the guitars have been fashioned with tendons in place of strings, and the drums skinned with actual skin.

The opening, title track sets a curry-scented guitar drone against a cymbal-and-tom concoction. It’s somehow both kinetic and completely still, and easily plays as the most scripted track on the CDr. With two minutes left, radio-static guitar raises the temperature even more: the actual moment of tipping? The fading siren of the last minute confirms it. Opposite the spectrum from the opening cut is track three, “Hold On To Your Lamp Post,” a bewildering jazz study that will leave the more rock-minded listeners exhausted. (The artists have uploaded these two bookends for streaming at their Soundcloud page. Know that the rest of the material falls mostly in the relatively restrained middle.) The first minute is especially off-kilter, with a four-hand freestyle drum lick and a loose-stringed guitar seizure. After the manic introduction, “Lamp Post” settles into something remotely psychedelic. The guitar tones favors those of Jimi Hendrix, and the singing distortion, the jazz chord progression are reassuring features.

Track five (“Incompatible Principles”) nicely illustrates the push-and-pull between the composed and the turbulent. It begins with guitar scratching and muted, jazzy percussion. Not a sound check as much as a couple of guys who do not know the PA is on. After the disorderly warm-up, Birchall opts for a alternate-tuning drone and some chiming, high register harmonies. After a minute or two of false security, Birchall/Cheetham allow the pendulum to swing back again, incorporating headstock tricks, pulsing feedback, and now machinelike distortion and glimpses of slide guitar. “All the Reds, Yellows and Browns” closes the album with ten minutes of gypsy bell percussion and Cheetham’s knuckles-on-office-furniture ethic. Michael Ondaatje would prefer to describe the guitar as thinkering instead of tinkering, while Cormac McCarthy might refer to the sum of the parts as riprap.

It would be a disservice to the readers and the artists not to state clearly that Tipping Point is a difficult album. By all means do not think of the Birchall/Cheetham debut as a polished pop, where we learn of former lovers and future ones, of princes keeping the view. Instead, think of it as literary fiction, in which we learn as much about ourselves as anyone else. Tipping Point is available now, through MIE.”

– Fred Nolan for Fluid Radio


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