February 24, 2012

REVIEW: Pat Mastelotto-Recidivate

I’m hesitant to call Pat Mastelotto’s latest release a ‘solo album.’ I read somewhere someone called it a ‘Retrospective’ and I liked that, so I’ll go with that, as the two disks of Recidivate showcase the highlights of a career spanning decades, encompassing numerous projects, not limited just to what Mastelotto’s been doing lately. ‘Solo’ is also a misnomer, because he isn’t. Accompanying him on this record are easily a dozen musicians, most if not all of them he has worked with before (Robert Fripp, Trey Gunn and Steve Wilson, just to name a few). So to call this a solo album would not only be giving Mastelotto more credit than perhaps he can claim, but to deny the rest any of the credit they’re due. Recidivate is a vehicle for the remixes, outtakes, sneak-peeks, extras and hits for Pat’s numerous projects and pals.

Recidivate is separated onto two disks: Traps (short for ‘contraptions,’ what drummers of yore called the assemblage of percussive paraphernalia attached and enjoined into what we now call ‘kits’ or ‘sets’), and Buttons (short for ‘buttons,’ what contemporary ‘drummers’ push to program and/or sequence beats digitally). In Mastelotto’s own words: “one disk is more played and the other more programmed…but neither is completely one or the other.” Make sense?

This album is really a reviewer’s dream come true, because it comes complete with a user’s manual of sorts. A companion piece on his website basically describes the how, the where, the why and sometimes the who for each track. It’s like the album was made with musicians in mind as the intended audience (i.e. Pat and his friends/band mates). As a craftsman, it’s fun to hear musicians talk shop, but as a critic it’s almost necessary if you want to get the whole picture. It helps in identifying the instrumentation for specific tracks as well, because with enough effects and processing anything can sound like anything else.

These ‘liner notes,’ for lack of a better term (which you can check out here and here) do take the wind out of the speculation sails however. What fun is wondering what could be, when what is and what isn’t, is laid out in black and white, straight from the horse’s mouth? Thankfully I can enjoy Recidivate from the detached, clinical, insider’s perspective which the accompanying practical explanation all but forces upon the listener, just as much as I can (or could have enjoyed it) from the involved, emotional, outsiders point of view which comes with not knowing how something’s done.

The links in the previous paragraph should provide you with the only real “review” of this album you’re likely to need, so I shan’t waste your time (or mine) rehashing and possibly contradicting what’s already been established as fact. All that’s really left is for you, the listener, to decide if you like it. But, since “he already did it” isn’t going to get me out of reviewing this record, I’ll go ahead and share with you some things that I like about Recidivate, because knowing what I like might help you articulate what you like.

Here we go:
The first track that caught my ear off the Traps disk was “Soup,” a quirky, silly track about supercolliders. Best line: “They got a supercollider down in Texas/Twenty miles of tunnels they could pave/It cost so much they never finished it/They should’ve rented it out and had a rave…” Prog Rock can get pretty serious some times, so it’s nice to see an injection of humor once in a while. Can’t beat that groove either. The Supercollider/Primordial Soup dichotomy introduced at the end is a nice touch too.

The Traps disk (the one that’s more “played”), is dominated by the works of TU, KTU, MPTU, and Tuner. A lot of what you get on the first disk is kind of herky-jerky, disjointed prog on the order of King Crimson (which makes sense considering Mastelotto’s status as a KC alum, and his long standing collaboration with Trey Gunn, who’s no stranger on this release either). This style is salted with other influences as well. Some tracks, like “Queen,” infuse this style with hints of blues. “Green Manalishi,” too. Most of the MPTU stuff is bluesy-er, but still stands firmly on prog/fusion ground.

On my first pass through listening, I made a note that “Makes No Sense At All” was one of the stand-out numbers. Looking back though, this makes no sense at all. It’s a fine track, still one of the top picks on the first disk, but it’s hard to say exactly why. The vocals are pretty raw, and it’s pretty lo-fi; maybe that’s it. On that same pass through I also wrote down “Optikus,” and as I’ve returned to it again and again, it’s easier to see why. If this song doesn’t get you moving, you might want to have your ears, or possibly your whole head examined. It’s got a primal, jungle groove, strange squeals and wails, and vocal samples that could favorably be described as off-putting and unsettling. I highly recommend you watch the video below. It’s longer than the album version and it’ll do a better job explaining itself than I could.

On the whole, the tracks on the Buttons disk are shorter (though not by much) and more experimental. They tend to incorporate vocals less, employ vocal samples more, and rely on the more eclectic elements of composition: strange time signatures, bizarre instrumentation, &c. For example, on “Dervish” and “Angst,” according to his website, one of the “instruments” Mastelotto played on the recording was a “plastic bag of microwave Pork Rinds, eq’ed to sound electric.” It’s impossible for me to tell if he’s joking or not. I still can’t discern anything particularly plastic-y or pork-y about the percussion, but like I said earlier, “with enough effects and processing anything can sound like anything else.”

“Nano” reintroduces the accordion sound that I enjoyed so much from “Optikus.” It’s the same KTU guys (I think), recorded and produced under different circumstances, closer to Mastelotto’s home base. The notes are pretty vague about this one. All you’re gonna get is how much these Finn’s love their Ping-Pong.

“Kill The Road” reminds me that it’s been a long time since I’ve listened to some Battles. It’s a simple riff with some strangeness laid over-top; short but sweet. And at the risk of making (or continuing to make) comparisons that can’t be lived up to: the “Abandoner remix 2” reminds me of some of Radiohead’s dreamier stuff.  The half-spoken/half-sung pseudo-falsetto throws of a York-ish vibe and it’s got that electronic break beat thing going on.

The second to last track, “The Use of Black,” is the highlight of Buttons the way “Optikus” is the highlight of Traps. And, like “Nano,” the notes are equally ambiguous. It was clear about one thing though: the significance of the Theremin on this track, one of my favorite modern instruments. The texture that a Theremin gives a song, any song, is almost without comparison. There really is no substitute.  
This massive dose of Mastelotto (just over 150 minutes long, pushing two and a half hours) is ideally suited for the die-hard Pat fans, or for those who can only buy one record a year, and really want to get the most bang for their buck. Based on size alone, Recidivate is daunting. Listening to it in one sitting is a test of endurance as well as dedication. It creates a good atmosphere, but to appreciate the subtleties it’s best to take it in smaller doses rather than let the whole thing ride.

5/5 Stars

Key Tracks: Disk 1: Optikus, Soup, Makes No Sense At All, Melrose Ave. / Disk 2: The Use Of Black, Nano, Kill The Road

Drew Vreeland 

February 24, 2012

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