Friday, April 17, 2009

Cheer-Accident -- Fear Draws Misfortune


Cheer-Accident -- Fear Draws Misfortune (Cuneiform)

I last heard this Chicago art rock band during an accessible phase on the wonderful What Sequel? album. But now it’s back to more exploratory fare with this effort.

The sound here is offbeat guitars meeting with offbeat horns on compositions that negotiate a path between precision rock as practiced by Frank Zappa and some of the less pompous British prog-rock bands, and jazz, while picking up and discarding other styles and genres along the way.

As someone who only has the band’s two “accessible” records, this is a challenging disc, but there is a consistent sensibility at work, even when the band isn’t trying to make pop records. There are certain ways that the band works with chords and rhythms that are as distinctive as fingerprints.

The album begins with “Sun Dies”, which has discordant guitar sounds, joined by swerving horns. With the vocals of drummer Thymme Jones and Carla Kihlstadt, this song mixes the art-garage sounds of Pere Ubu and Tin Huey with more fusion-y elements. After the vocals fade out eerily, the band commences to lock into a groove, and from there the musicians explore, with ghostly choral vocals entering and exiting at odd times.

After two nifty short instrumentals, one a slice of concentrated pomp (“Mescalito”) and the other jazzy and horn driven (“And Then You Realize You Haven’t Left Yet”), the band moves into “Blue Cheadle”. The jagged guitar riff that focuses the tune wouldn’t sound out of place on an old Shudder To Think record. The guitar is supported by tight drumming by Jones. The rhythm pattern established by the guitar and supported by the bass is the foundation for the whole song, which then shoots off into slight detours -- horns parts, vocal interludes, a piano break, and so forth. This is a rocking musical journey.

The band moves into something approaching Krautrock on the modulated “Disenchantment”, with low key thrumming over jazzy drums and walking piano. This sets up “The Carnal, Garish City”, which has full horn accompaniment and creeping and crawling guitar lines. This song is moving towards a specific destination, but never takes a straight line to get there.

There’s a lovely art pop interlude on the melodic “According to the Spiral”, with Jones singing the pretty melody over an undulating rhythm section. The warmth of the vocal is in stark contrast to the mechanistic quality of the instrumental backing underneath.

The final two tracks are long numbers, full of exploration. “Humanizing the Distance” is in the vein of “The Carnal, Garish City”, with a tight structure, but lots of passages that sound like they were either improvised or came out of some serious jamming. Again, the strong rhythm section gives so much freedom to everyone else, whether it’s the guitarist playing darting lines or the horns squonking in odd fashion.

Jones starts off “Your Weak Heart” with a piano piece that is strongly inspired by Brian Wilson. This on its own would be a sensational song. But the various keyboards and wind instruments come in like a chilly storm, and the song moves in a completely different direction. Jones plays some sophisticated piano runs, accompanied by his own trumpet part. Although this is a totally different piece, in a sense, both sections of this song seem to cast a sense of infinite space against a lonely, solitary figure. The song then moves into fusion/prog territory, the piano still driving everything. Eventually, things wind back to the original stark song with Jones singing. This song mixes an intellectual bent with some real emotion and is an excellent way to end this set.

For all of the exploring going on, Cheer-Accident never falls back on flash or theatrics. The band enjoys a challenge, pulling together disparate elements, and on this album, the musicians are quite successful in putting together a very compelling set of songs.

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