Wendy Eisenberg serves notice with two bracing, disparate new guitar albums
Wendy Eisenberg began making ripples in the underground last year with some neatly contained outré sounds, playing lurching art-rock in Birthing Hips, a Boston quartet whose noise-to-melody ratio recalled early Deerhoof, as well as making oddly hermetic, decidedly homemade, synth-driven art-pop on her solo tape Time Machine. While both releases stood above the DIY fray, it wasn't until the NEC grad dropped two albums under her own name in the last few weeks that I took serious notice of her abundant talents.
The Machinic Unconscious (Tzadik) is a bruising trio session that brings a prog-like rigor and visceral energy to peripatetic improvisational impulses, as if Joe Morris had overdosed on no wave instead of absorbing traditional African music. The session features bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Ches Smith and together they operate as a genuine collective, producing furious motion, explosive collisions, and sparks of electric noise as a multi-limbed organism that manages to overcome conflicting impulses to lumber, sprawl, and crush as a single entity. On the seething opening track "The Descent of Alette" Dunn produces a noxious spew of feedback, fuzzed-out squelches, and hop-scotching lacerations that Eisenberg's initial twangy, atmosphere rich interjections and Smith's gentle cymbal play almost seem quaint. I was impressed that while the guitarist does eventually ratchet up the energy, she's content to allow her nimble rhythm section to function as the primary wrecking machine. Of course, before long she makes clear that she can summon a noise as thick, ugly, and viscous as anyone.
The trio toggles between loose, rumbling grooves and spasmodic sallies of noise-and-confusion; the music eschews prog's obsession with hollow virtuosity and elaborate scaffolding for something much more natural, intuitive, and raw--drawing away the attention from the instrumental chops of each player and putting the focus on their interplay and elasticity. Since Tzadik generally has no truck with streaming audio I instead offer video from a recent live performance by Eisenberg with bassist Damon Smith and drummer Weasel Walter (who has long paved one of the artistic paths the guitarist is following here). The playing is looser, less deliberately propulsive, and lacks the concentrated punch of the studio album, but it certainly reveals her versatility and imagination.
Its Shape is Your Touch (VDSQ) is a solo acoustic outing that at once presents a much different complexion while revealing Eisenberg's recognizable style across different platforms. These gnarled explorations are infused by dissonant tangles of harmonics, with terse phrases that toggle from lockstep intervals into abrupt jerks, bent notes, and clanging resonance. On the one hand it seems clear that Eisenberg has been a devoted student of Derek Bailey, but she's not afraid to retain passages of rustic, almost folk-like lyricism. Her chords and tangled arpeggios in the back half of "Lethe" generate a lovely slalom between jazz-like comping, note-damped discord, and atonal probing. "Early November," which you check out below, is marked by a bittersweet melody that makes the slightest approach toward American Primitive fingerstyle without every succumbing to the churning rhythmic thrust made famous by John Fahey. That's not to say the piece is static: Eisenberg is at her most driving, but she deploys single-note runs to produce a rushing sense of motion that pivots, glides, and doubles back with dazzling assurance and a keen sense of adventure.
These new recordings, combined with her rock-leaning projects from last year, do more than suggest an auspicious talent--she's just starting to come into her own, which heralds an almost frightening potential for the future. I'm strapping myself in for the ride.
Masabumi Kikuchi, Tethered Moon (Evidence)
John Butcher, Tony Buck, Magda Mayas & Burkhard Stangl, Plume (Unsounds)
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, The Skeletal Essences of Afro Funk 1969-1980 (Analog Africa)
Peter Garland, Love Songs (Tzadik)
Jérôme Noetinger, dR (Piedflu)