John Edwards: double bass, cello, drum programming; Caroline Kraabel: baritone sax; Sue Lynch: tenor sax; Rosa Lynch-Northover: keyboards, percussion; Adrian Northover: soprano, sopranino and alto saxes; David Petts: tenor sax, noise generator
The claustrophobic feel experienced in this very moment by your reviewer – who is typing while literally swamped by records and other assorted literary/artistic items, all related to a hypothetical role of cultivated critic to which he’ll never adapt – is augmented by the typically unclassifiable sonorities of this new effort by the ever-clever Remote Viewers. City Of Nets is, as always, pretty distinctly organized – basically, an alternance of vigorously pulsating tracks with relatively calmer episodes – and responds affirmatively to two crucial questions. Can difficult music be used to dance? Is the band on a par with their finest production?
The title track, “Red Test”, “A Girl And A Gun” and “Uninvited” are paradigmatic as far as the former issue is concerned, ideal illustrations of what the ensemble masterfully employs to keep the alert lights flashing and make us shuffle our feet at once. Reed arrangements full of crisp clusters in intelligible a-linearity are sustained by a backbone named John Edwards, his expert programming of drum machines gifting them with a rare human vibe. Not to mention the utter functionality of string parts that push David Petts’ pointed geometries even more forward than expected. The smart employment of a noise generator, and the sparseness of Rosa Lynch-Northover’s synth contributions add a touch of elusive peculiarity to contrapuntal constructions that do not want to know about being committed to memory or, heaven forbid, sung. This material is as wriggling as an atonality-loving eel, and unkind like a lancet. And if you need some glimpses of empiricist philosophy, look no further than the puzzling “Table Talk”, whose proportion of toneless wandering and businesslike imperturbability depicts a plausible mix of fairly strident atmospheres whilst forcing the listener to reach for the “repeat” button to better understand what was actually going on.
One of those releases for which adjectives like “groovy” or “challenging” are reductive to the extreme; call it a lesson on the acceptance of opposing components inside a (supposedly) regular design. At any rate, not for everybody.