Album cover.


Raus Aus Stavanger

(Rune Grammofon; 2006)

By Mark Abraham | 2 March 2006

I should confess: I fucking love drums. The kind that are incessant but with enough space between them to crawl through; the kind that openly defy my pitiful attempts at crafting useful modifiers. Splattering? Meh. Deafening? Not really. Cacophonous? Closer, but still no cigar. A steel forge where all the workers are wearing tap shoes and there are contact mics on everything?

This album is chaotic, yes, but MoHa! are forthright about their fondness for the work and theory of Anthony Braxton, in whose framework experimentation should be the focus of any music. But if experimental music breaks down convention, Braxton also sees the potential for finding new conventions in the process of breaking old ones. Additionally, Braxton links convention, or the typical rules that define musical expression, to consciousness. For his students in MoHa!, then, breaking apart convention (meter, key, tempo, etc.) is just as much about exploring new ways to think about or experience ideas as it is the creation of challenging music.

MoHa! approach “out” forms differently than other practitioners, however. The band’s name might help to explain how they view this process. MoHa! is an awesome one, but if you’re like me, you may be disappointed to learn that it’s simply a contraction of the two members of this Norwegian duo’s given names: Morton J. Olsen and Anders Hana. Of course, that’s part of the game here. If the band’s name reduces two complex identities to a simple name that’s fun to say, these two musicians find synthesis in thick and demanding pieces of music, but are masterful and youthful and excited enough about doing so that they have a lot of fun along the way.

I mean, they’re not exactly finding a new musical language, as they’re taking cues from fellow Rune Grammofon labelmates and sinister electo-jazz villains Supersilent, as well as all the usual “out” suspects: Brötzmann, Leo Smith, Braxton and Zorn. The big difference, however, is that MoHa! employs rock timbres to gain an immediacy their influences lack. Despite the barrage, they are often clever, cute, and charming. And while I won’t try to label this “twee out” or anything, that sense of quirk and humor on Raus Aus Stravanger had my fingers crouched in QWERTY curls about a minute into its second track. It absolutely screams out of the gate, all synapses firing, and, as with all good “out” stuff, you can feel it eat at your brain cells. Critically, however, that sense of de- and regeneration that focuses most of the work of MoHa!’s influences is here replaced by snappy comebacks and sarcastic expressions.

This success was achieved, in part, by process. These guys holed up in Athletic Sound, a studio where most of the Rune Grammofon stuff is recorded, and did each song in one take. It’s impressive, certainly, but I don’t want to harp too much on the fact that this is all RECORDED LIVE IN THE STUDIO WITH NO OVERDUBS ‘cause, dude—phrase samplers? Synths? Weird effect cycles? These guys are way too good to act like there is something special about the way this was recorded. Hell, watch them do it on “c5,” ‘cause it’s freaky.

And I don’t really want to drop a whole “these two guys play like they are having a conversation with one another,” ‘cause that’s way too jam-band, and that’s not really the case anyway. I suspect it helps that these guys have been playing together since 1999, and their level of comfort with one another is obvious. But Anders and Olsen aren’t having deep and meaningful free-form conversations. Any conversing they do engage in is limited by pre-chosen boundaries—key, rhythm, and concept—and to my ear the point is not so much to explore a psychological realm as it is to poke frat-style fun at one another. I hear snark everywhere: loose washes of guitar that drown out the drums; flailing, incessant percussion that feasts on plaintive feedback; snorting rock rhythms that emerge out of the chaos. But neither is this album a showcase for two excellent musicians competing for screen time. As these two musicians sonically explore the same jokes they often find themselves transcending humor to arrive at the ideas that tether it.

And I can’t even really tell you what those ideas are. I could try to explain what some of these songs sound like, but with no descriptive song titles or lyrics, any metaphors I use (“a2” revs up like a motorcycle before exploding in a six car pile-up; “c4” employs Autechre-style blips to explore the dynamic world of plumbing; “a4” re-enacts a short-wave radio’s existential crisis”) are conjecture. And, anyway, why bother to pin this stuff down when MoHa! has spent so much time trying to remove its anchors? This stuff is really, really good, even if you can’t understand the punchline.