Saturday, January 8, 2011

Foxy Digitalis Review of Vroom Psycho

Hammer of Hathor is minimalism with muscle. The Portland duo/trio has a basement-jam feel to it – a couple of kids with some guitars/amps and drums, a tape machine, horns and various other noisemakers. Each kid picks one, hits ‘rec’ on the tape deck, and then proceeds to just let ‘er rip for a few minutes. Sometimes, they not only rip but absolutely destroy and devour. But no matter what, no matter how “jammy” Hammer of Hathor is in theory (and the music for the most part is steadfast in its improvisatory approach, highly akin to free jazz giants like Sonny Sharrock or Ornette Coleman), the ensemble manages to formulate five distinct, succinct, and coherent statements on this tape, each with a clear beginning, middle, and end.

There’s no rocket science here. No theory, skill or any kind of instrumental mastery at work. But what results are maddening, insanity-incarnate tracks that build with focused inertia and then succeed to piss you off by notexploding into a million pieces. This, of course, is why “Vroom-Psycho” is such an entrancing, engrossing listen, though – especially the album’s magnificent centerpieces (one for each side), “Mt. Tabor” and “Invincible Armor,” which both feature noisy, shrapnel-shards of guitar and skull-pounding, overdriven drums. The former sets up a 6/8 waltz feel with a single guitar note pulsing a simple rhythm for a bass drum/crash cymbal combo to simply pound the notes alongside in an eight-minute pressure-cooker crescendo. “Invincible Armor” is a bit more diverse in the way the drums move through three different thematic rhythms for the guitar to embellish with nervous, skittering lines. And though the sounds are dark, menacing, powerful—evil even—Hammer of Hathor still produces a thoughtful, weirdly playful exchange between aligned voices – a stylistic element that ultimately binds the entirety of the tape into a satisfying, unified statement.

The remaining tracks round things out with shorter compositions, and highlight one of the best features of “Vroom-Psycho,” which is how different each track is composed instrumentally, and how they contribute to the bigger picture of what Hammer of Hathor accomplishes beyond a basic guitar/drums arrangement. “Alice & John” is like two saxophones learning to talk with each other for the first time in muted honks. “Air Pain” is a scathing cacophony of harp strings atop a deep, cavernous baritone that wavers and wobbles below (like a timpani drum with someone massaging the tension pedal, perhaps). Album closer “For Guylene” is a duet of either ocarina flutes or guitar feedback (it’s seriously tough to tell). The effect is what is important here: two distinct pitches, throbbing at near-similar tempos, then successively bending themselves up or down. Overall, listening to “Vroom-Psycho” is like quitting smoking: you get that edgy, nervous feel of despair, anger and frustration, all focused here into instrumental chaos. Sometimes there’s pleasure in this kind of pain, like chewing on the inside of your cheek or stretching your back in hopes of getting that one final crack – a sigh, a moment of release that may never come. Hammer of Hathor finds a horrifying beauty in impatience.

Field Hymns

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