Electric Bird Noise
Kind of Black
Silber Media, 2014
Review by Kent Manthie
So, there I was, browsing through the internet when I decided to check my email and what was there but another e-mailing list email from Brian Silber & friends at Silber Media, which specializes in ambient, shoegaze, noise-rock, experiemental, avant-garde drone and so on. Every couple of months or so I receive an update of what’s new at Silber Media. This time, I saw that there were a few interesting items, indeed. And the cool thing about this is that, since these emailings are sent to press-types for reviews, promotion, etc, they provide free downloads for certain items.
The one we’re talking about here is the new album from Electric Bird Noise; it’s a CD called Kind of Black, a take on Miles Davis’s classic album, Kind of Blue (this is evident from looking at the EBN album cover, which has its own artwork that partly superimposes the album cover design of Kind of Blue, featuring “Miles Davis” spelled out in the upper left corner and a bit of the small Columbia Records logo, which was on the original Kind of Blue album). Each song title is imaginatively titled (a little sarcasm there): for example, the first song is called “one”, next up is “two”, then “three”, “four”, “five”, “six” and so on, up to “eleven”, the eleventh and final cut. I know it’s sort of easy to poke fun at the song title method, but it actually works in this configuration. Each tune just bleeds right into the next, e.g., the song “three” ends precisely at 2:58 and after the final note of that one plays, “four” starts up seamlessly. It’s as if this whole album is really one long song, sliced up into eleven tracks.
What I like about Kind of Black is that, being a rather ambient, chill-out, drone-style sound, you’d expect or assume that the instrumentation would be configured of synthesizers and circuit-bending and all sorts of pre-programmed computer noises, sampled “found sounds” and whatnot. However, that is not the case with Kind of Black. Instead, the ethereal atmospherics are emitted by a guitar and it’s not even hooked into a guitar synthesizer like Robert Fripp or Adrian Belew uses, to make their guitars sound exactly like one playing a synthesizer keyboard. No, EBN uses just a straight guitar with no effects, just a bit of reverb and a clean, kind of jazzy style of guitar sound, with crisp, clear, clean notes, played fantastically moving. Because of the novelty of the dearth of synthesizers and the ambient, drone sound made up almost exclusively of guitar (there is a bit of synth accompaniment on some cuts: “six”, for instance, has a bit of keyboard jamming in the background that doesn’t overtake the guitar, but fits nicely in. In other areas, say, “one” or “two” or “three”, all there is to hear is a guitar; no percussion, no bass, no piano or keyboards (except as noted), and all instrumental at that (which is kind of obvious). In fact, “seven” is an exceptional example of how this bare-boned guitar solo ambience works out: it’s quite mesmerizing, although it sounds, from reading about it here, that it may be boring or a snoozer of a record, that is far from the case. The very first time I listened to Kind of Black, I was hooked. Something in this brilliant guitar noodling has a hypnagogic germ in it that infects the mind with a sound which can’t be ignored and that actually reels one in. Just sitting there with this album playing, one goes far, far down a rabbit hole, so to speak, into a netherworld of surreality and fantasy that causes you to lose yourself in its magical “stream-of-subconsciousness”.
The longest song is “nine”, which comes in at close to eight minutes (7:53, to be exact). There exists, in “nine” some background sounds; strange electric raindrop sounds, staccato-like drips and drops, a plaintive, whining, whisper of synth air, reminiscent of the score to a well-written, nuanced, psychologically thrilling horror film. “Nine” is the kind of spooky music that you would hear start playing in a part of one of those oh-so-typical scenarios in a scene in which a young, defenseless girl, all by herself, hears a noise and/or sees a shadow or catches a glimpse of some sort of movement out of the corner of her eye and you, the viewer, watching this take place are wont to yell at the screen “get out of there, stupid” or “what the hell are you doing? Just forget about it and go back to the safety of your house- or at least bring your dumb boyfriend (if he hasn’t already been killed off at this point in the movie)” – anyway, while the girl walks around, seeking out the source of whatever it was that attracted her attention, all of a sudden the kind of music that “nine” represents, starts to play; a slow, quiet, creepy build-up, letting you, the viewer know that something ominous and terrorizing is about to happen, but the director usually drags this kind of thing out, letting the tension and suspense build up, not just in the girl on the screen, but in the person watching the movie. If some “victim-to-be” were checking out where a sound came from and what it was, only to be killed in a gruesome, terrible way and it happened rather quickly, it would be too predictable and the payoff would not be as great as it would had the terror-laced tension had had lots of time in which to build up. That’s why this obvious target of a character in a horror flick like this, if it’s made well enough, would have a long scene, the creepy, “warning” and ominous music starting up, the kind of music that is unmistakably portentious that something very bad and violent is about to happen. The longer this goes on, the further this girl goes, in search of this…this…whatever it is that has her on edge and curious enough to go find out whence it came, the longer it takes for whatever is going to happen to her happen, the tauter the tension becomes, until you get to a point where the tension “cable” is stretched so far, so tightly that it inevitably snaps and then, “BAM”, that something – whatever it is: a throat getting cut, an axe decapitating the victim, opening a door and the surprise is lurking right behind it and all of a sudden the quiet, creepy signal-of-doom music gives way to a loud crescendo of music; instantly freak-out loud music timed to go with the horror of whatever is happening onscreen.
I think you get the picture, the idea about how Kind of Black moves along. I think it makes for a great listen and it doesn’t “spoil” quickly, it has staying power and the intense mood keeps your interest even after a dozen or more listens.
If you’re big on avant-garde, atmospheric drone music with noodling guitar notes creeping up and down your spine, Kind of Black is for you. For more information on this and other Silber Media releases, check out http://www.silbermedia.com and get connected. -KM.
Electric Bird Noise