Sunday, May 24, 2009

French for Sled Dogs at 1067: errata and a mini-interview!

Well, do I feel like an idjit now. Fond of Tigers guy Stephen Lyons doesn't play guitar for French For Sled Dogs, he plays drums; I realize now that I've likely already been told that by Chris Albanese - the man whose conception the unit is, and the actual guitarist. I've chatted with Chris on a few occasions, but hadn't made it to one of his shows until tonight. Albanese explained via email that he "had been looking for months for someone to start this with. I asked Stephen if he knew anyone, he gave me a few names, nothing came of it. I saw him at an art opening and he offered to play the drums. I had heard him in Dixie's Death Pool, but it just had not occured to me at the time to ask him, because he seemed kind of busy..."

Chris Albanese and Dave Chokroun, by Femke van Delft. Not to be used without permission.

The project is terrific. Dave Chokroun quipped "the wrath of math" at one point; I was kinda thinkin' "the Melvins go prog." Intense, involuted amplified acoustic guitar noodlin's and cleaver-chop chords from Albanese; Dave permuting loping electric basslines and perversifyin' them into - well, different loping electric basslines; Lyons alternately channeling Billy Martin (in terms of how he sounded) and a young John Wright (in terms of how he looked). Lyons was pleased to hear that I thought he acquitted himself just fine as a drummer, saying, "that means I have you fooled, as well" - though he also drums for Books & Branches, Cloudsplitter, Dixie's Death Pool, and D Trevlon, none of which have I heard. I wasn't really able to make out what Julian Gosper, on electronics, was doing, but then, I'm never quite sure what Martin Swope or Bob Weston are up to for Mission of Burma, either, unless the rest of the band quiet down so I can hear their contributions; my ear for electronics in live band contexts is simply not that sharp.

French For Sled Dogs are focussed and intense without being bugfuck; "math rock," as Chokroun had called them, is not an appellation that I immediately get excited about, since at times it suggests music that makes my head hurt, but there was a freedom in what French For Sled Dogs did at 1067 that kept things from getting too cerebral or manic. It was very easy to close my eyes and just listen (or to watch them; Chokroun seems to play electric bass with his jaw, or at least his lips, slightly off-kilter, something I don't recall noticing when he drums or plays his more regular acoustic bass). "I think that we play the music that I write in an organic way," Albanese tells me. "Before the guys agreed to play in the band, I usually explained that it would be some written music and some improvised. As for what I write, I would say atonal, strong rhythms and a specific mood. The guys write their own parts, unless I have a more specific idea for the rhythm section. That way it is more democratic..."

I asked Albanese about the origins of the name "French For Sled Dogs," which seems to oscillate between two different readings - the French word for "sled dogs," and, say, Berlitz instruction for huskies working in northern Quebec. Albanese directed me to Stephen Lyons, since Lyons came up with it. "The vibrating meaning between the two options is the very reason for the name," Stephen tells me. "I'm attracted to those intersections of meaning where misunderstanding is highly possible. Most people ask 'well, what IS French for 'sled dogs?' wanting to hear some French term, but fewer picture a husky sitting at a cafe, pawing through his vocab book, cramming for his coffee order..."

Lyons reports Fond of Tigers will be undertaking a tour in June, climaxing with their performance at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival with Mats Gustafsson (who now has his own website!). With luck, French For Sled Dogs will play again in town before then (and maybe use the recordings from 1067 online somewhere so I could link to'em). I'm not always wild about what I see at 1067 - since sometimes I feel like I'm watching people jam in their practice space (which, depending on the musicians, is exactly what I'm doing), but I had a great time at this show Saturday. Nice to hang out with Femke again, too!

Stephen Lyons and Julian Gosper, by Femke van Delft; not to be used without persimmons.

Opening act Spectrum Interview were also interesting, but in a more subdued way; tho' Toby Carroll, on Korg, certainly got my attention when he picked up what I think was a speaker and began to bang it around on the floor in the interests of producing feedback. You don't see many people thumping their instruments on the floor these days. I encourage it.

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