Tonight, the prolix, improvisation-happy Ohioan C. Spencer Yeh will play a set with cellist Okkyung Lee and pianist Magda Mayas at the Knitting Factory. And while there's no way to predict what his set might sound like, it's a fair bet that it'll differ from the two shows he played last week and from his forthcoming solo album 1975, due out Oct. 1 on Intransitive Recordings. To qualify as an official Yeh stan, one should possess (a) tons of shelf and hard/or drive space, (b) a dedicated credit card, and (c) a strong sense of musical adventure.
From the bicycle-chain scrape of 2006's Solo Violin I-X to the abstract crack jazz he's made with Storm of Corpses to the fanged, chronological layer-cake Papercuts Theater (recorded with Burning Star Core, his long-running noise project with members of Lexington, Kentucky grist-atomizers Hair Police) to the giddy sides cut with Cali laptop-noise guy John Wiese, Yeh's sprawling, multi-instrumental oeuvre can be summed up in one word: "possibility." (You can sample a few of them here.)
1975, by contrast, can come across at first blush as stubbornly incurious, insular, slight, and too fussed over; like a cavernous gallery space of canvases painted a stark white, it sometimes doesn't seem to go far enough. The first half is all ooze: drones come on like augurs turning in slow motion; masticated vocalizations get the Jiffy Pop treatment; tremulous, ribbon-like tones that breed like domesticated rabbits when not inching in and out of earshot. Antagonistic track-titling doesn't help much. (No kidding, there are three songs on this album entitled "Drone.") Even when Yeh ups the edgeas on contextually abrasive cuts labeled as skits, and some abrasive-given-the-context delirium-o-ramaseverything initially feels infused with a degree of antiseptic hesitancy.
Then something strange happens: 1975's studied insolvency wins by imperceptibly softening into a cozy, alien hang suite, its innate insolvency an asset for those Beats By Dre headphone moments when traditional ambient is too contiguous, hard noise is too brutal, and you're feening for a diffuse sound that's less Tazer-shock intense than low-impact cerebral massage. In other words, if you can't identify which song you're listening to most points on 1975and if you can barely muster the will to checkthat's pretty much as it should be.
Sound of the City recently emailed with Yeh about 1975, how hip-hop doesn't own the concept of skits, and the violin as albatross.More »