n their debut album, the San Francisco duo of Karl Bauer and William Sabiston present a head-trip amalgam of violin, hand percussion, electronics and piles and piles of effects pedals.
The first of the album’s seven unnamed tracks is a soothing drone, slowly evolving to reveal repeating rhythmic phrases. It’s hard to talk much about a piece like this; you’ll either like it or you won’t, and that’s totally dependent on your taste. It’s too long for mine. As a shorter intro to the album, it would have been a nice way to set the mood. As it stands, it just gets boring.
The second track brings in background crackling and buzzing along with the processed violin. It cuts out way too soon, just as the violin lurches into some form of ecstatic improvisation—unfortunate. The meat and potatoes, however, lie at the center of the album. Adhering to the philosophy that more is better, the layers just keep getting piled on. Delayed oscillations, high-pitched drones and what could be vocals cohere into some sort of psychedelic mess. Track four opens in mid-climax; glitches flutter around rhythmic bleating, and bells chime under layers of fuzz. Tracks three and four are engaging, likely highlights of improvisations, and are pieced together here for our enjoyment. It works; things keep moving along but the transitions aren’t haphazard and thoughtless.
A low buzzing, something that sounds like a sitar’s hum and some more bells (clearer this time) open track five. A fairly straight, extremely slow synthesizer melody runs underneath, providing a rhythmic groundwork for the erratic and ear-catching bells. It’s much more organic than its predecessors, evoking Jewelled Antler collective as opposed to the chaotic electric screeches that permeate the rest of the album. Placed very wisely, it acts as welcome respite from the chaos surrounding it.
Tony Conrad violin drones return on the sixth track, working amid electronic bleeps and squeaks which come to dominate the proceedings. The violin drones are joined by micro-melodies produced by the same instrument, sounding something like Bartok’s collection of Hungarian folk melodies. Track seven closes the album out with a beautiful, low-key ambient piece. Synthesizers drift with a manner similar to Selected Ambient Works II gently re-ground the listener.
This isn’t new territory; Double Leopards particularly stand out as an influence, but at times Axolotl also recalls the recent work Matthew Bower as well as quietist trio Son of Earth. Unlike Double Leopards, however, Axolotl seem keen on stitching together shorter songs to ensure the album’s variety. It’s a nice gesture on their part, as, it must be said, the traditional “epic voyage into the forest” jam can get a bit boring. Quite nice work.
Reviewed by: Ian Johnson
Reviewed on: 2004-11-10