By Mark Abraham | 15 May 2007
The easiest way to describe what Jinx sounds like is to lump it in with other freak/jam/jazz/psyche/folk/whatever bands like Jackie-o Motherfucker and Sunburned Hand of the Man. The difference, though: while both are undeniably fascinating and important groups, neither has ever really been able to take their process of tempering jam band euphoria with noise and acoustic experimentation and make a good, solid album. Kammerflimmer Kollektief, six albums into their own career, finally have. It’s not ahead of its time; there’s really nothing here to differentiate it stylistically from other bands who do similar work, or from the Books and the sprightlier laptop acoustic artists they take some cues from. On the other hand, Kammerrflimmer Kollektief get around to just doing what I wish a lot of these bands would do: executing the experimentation of these other bands into well-crafted songs that are as much about the song as they are the sound.
That’s not to say that Jinx‘s tracks are necessarily any more accessible than their less-honed counterparts. My point is that while bands like Sunburned Hand of the Man create a vague impression of a mood on some of their stronger tracks (see: Headdress ), Kammerflimmer Kollektief confidently execute that mood like they’re capturing it on film. And they weren’t always this good at it; previous albums were beset with similar problems as their American counterparts, but here the German band is a) biting just a little (or, “just enough,” perhaps) into their krautrock heritage (see Heike Aumüller’s awesome Suzuki-style vocals on the title track, where she probably popped her uvula), and b) has finally maneuvered all of their instruments (there’s a bunch) into places in the arrangement where they provide contrast and relief, rather than just another pot to bang on.
This is clearly seen on a track like “Gammler, Zen & Hoe Berge,” where Johannes Frisch sets a vibrant bowed bass line to Thomas Webber’s percussion and Aumüller’s synth. Webber’s also triggered one of FM3’s Buddha Machines; the box simply provides color to a tense, sparse, and pointed arrangement. The three musicians (who form the heart of the Kollektief and comprise their touring band) play wonderfully off one another, Aumüller adding just a touch of Steve Reich’s minimalism to Frisch’s gorgeous sawing. The second version of “Jinx” also hints at minimalism at the same time that the musicians get into a bunch of pileups (complicated, given how sparse the tune is) that send them into very brief free jazz excursions. Weber is playing guitar at micro-levels, employing string scrapes and quick hand motions to make his guitar’s rhythm work against the momentum of the song. “Live at the Cactus Tree Motel” takes the band in an entirely different direction; warm fuzzy instrumentation nuzzle against one another like the sun setting on an oasis in the desert. But beneath that Nashville sheen horns and electronics buzz like angry insects, choking and occasionally popping through. Those noises are sparse—the band isn’t layering soft on dismal. But the result is still to hint at chaos that can itself be beautiful in certain contexts.
“Both Eyes Tight Shut” again has Aumüller lobbing almost-phrases over Weber’s guitar work as the rest of the musician’s created a death veil of shifting drones in the background. The song is wonderful because it never explodes like it could; this is a simple moment of emotion that doesn’t change or mature. It’s similar to “Pamplinset,” the album’s opener, where Aumüller’s whispered “1, 2, 3, 4” gives way to a melancholic space of panned kalimbas, winding strings, and shifting tonics. Or “Nest,” the shortest piece on the album, which sounds like the intro to a Nursery Cryme (1971)-era Genesis track before just ending. A beginning with no conclusion. Which leads into “Subnarkotisch” (can’t tell if that’s a funny pun or if it’s lost in translation), a wall of slow, pallid squeals and ambient effects that slowly becomes busier and busier without ever really coalescing into something tangible. It’s a brilliant way to end an album so focused on the specific placement of parts to have three musicians simply improvise an idea. And when it collapses over ten minutes in there’s no catharsis, no resolution. The silence is the only sound left.
A sextet that more often performs as a trio, the flexibility gives the band lots of opportunities to play with arrangements and tones. On Jinx the band has also mastered the ability to draw a whole spate of influences into a coherent sound. So while that loping, ungainly freedom of freak-folk is definitely a part of this music, it’s way more refined and palatable than that.