Review by Ned Raggett
Now that a new generation has again shown that the idea of Norwegian jazz has moved well past the stage of prompting immediate surprise, hearing what individual acts can do to set themselves apart in the 21st century is part of the overall pleasure. On their third album, the keyboard/drum duo Humcrush continue following their very distinct muse, with songs reaching everywhere, from the organ flights of fancy of Korla Pandit and Raymond Scott to the realms of glitch techno and dark ambient without sounding like any one specific style -- a multiplicity that works wonders. Drawing on live recordings, Rest at Worlds End similarly relies on ranges of mood as well as style -- the contemplative "Edingruv" immediately follows the frenetic opener "Stream," while "Steam" builds from near silence to a nervy rollicking pace via Thomas Strønen's drums, even as Ståle Storløkken's calmer tones maintain a serene mood. Perhaps the best moment is the perfectly lovely title track, Storløkken's work providing a captivating melodic hook, but the whole is well worth investigating, and another well deserved feather in the Rune Grammofon label's cap.
Combined Rating: 81%
“Audio Hydraulic” makes a mockery of a lot of fusion from the 1970s, and I don’t even care to qualify that. Ståle Storløkken and Thomas Strønen have really outdone themselves in fleshing out their brand of free improv this time, and even more so than on Hornswoggle (2006) they’ve tapped into what makes Humcrush great: they rely on their musical personalities to rip shit up, and on Rest at World’s End they’ve abandoned the moods of their previous work to attack entire narratives.
I like to think that the giddy, skull-whitening synths here are Storløkken’s real personality, and the stuff he does with Supersilent is his evil twin or something. The patches Storløkken uses are day-glo bright; they sound like he’s squeezing them through Strønen’s always fascinating percussion, which sounds better than ever. Remember those weird percussion tracks on early Mothers of Invention albums that Zappa probably spent a week speeding up and slowing down and editing together? Strønen just plays that way, and by the time “Steam” rolls down the chute like a robot funkgasm and he actually plays real drum beats it’s striking and incredible, especially since: this is a live album. And while I’ve said before in these pages that nobody should get points for playing stuff live when it comes to rating albums, this live album is the best Humcrush album. Which is saying something.
There’s a lot of ideas here, and it’s the variety that makes the album so appealing. Witness the huge gap between the Shining/“Psalm”-apeing synth solo that opens “Ghost Dance” and the cacophonous opener “Stream” that’s essentially 60,000 make-your-own-Terry-Bozzio jokes in a row. And the other thing Humcrush have gotten really good at is their tendency to shift from free improv into rhythmic free jazz without you really realizing they’re doing it until suddenly there’s a structure that has tied all the disparate bits of noise together. “Edingruv” becomes a song while you’re still trying to grasp at the clever percussion. The title track flips gracefully back and forth between IDM and industrial, with big round electric piano chords holding it together.
The closing two tracks represent the duo’s new forays into thick, techno-inspired terrain that was slightly more evident on Hornswoggle. “Bullfight” is a brief but furious synthesis of chaotic drumming and grainy synths, while “Hit” shows off Strønen’s amazing ability to play techno-inspired beats that sound like he’s playing the riffs and the audio delays normally employed to achieve such sounds. And all while taking time out for cowbells and other weird percussion. And while the rest of the album isn’t as heavy as these two tracks, Rest at World’s End really shows off the band’s softer intricacies; “Airport,” for example, is a wonderful study in the way this duo can make a lull sound endlessly fascinating. It feels like there’s a story arc to each one of these songs and the album as a whole that’s bracing for how unpredictable it is and affecting for the way it touches with impressionism on ideas about the interaction of spirit with technology and the possibility of peace in an apocalypse.
Most importantly, Rest at World’s End solidifies early impressions about the capacity of Humcrush to sound endlessly complex and dense despite only being two musicians. And where duo- and trio-driven free improv is fairly typical, the sheer amount of sound these two artists generate without overwhelming the distortion pedals or going sparse is astonishing. Just listen to the way the kick drum is used (exalted) on “Steam.” I don’t know who’s resting when they’re listening to this amazing album.
Mark Abraham 03/30/2009