New Releases Showcase Andre LaFosse’s Musical Evolution
Listening to the message
I remember listening to a work of Wagner’s in college and being really torn because while the composition was undeniably great, Wagner was such a repellant person in every respect that I had ambivalent feelings about listening to his music. When expressing this struggle in a music history class, the teacher told me, “Sometimes you should listen to the message and not the messenger.”
This advice came into play recently as I was listening to the two new releases by Andre LaFosse. On Andre’s web page (altruistmusic.com) – he describes the records as the following,
“The Hard Bargain – the mid-life crisis rock album….This is me finally giving myself permission to make an instrumental rock guitar album, after spending most of the last 15 years doing everything in my power to avoid it.”
“Do The Math – the mad scientist modular synth krautrock hauntology album.”
If I’m to trust the message, in my opinion The Hard Bargain is his imaginary soundtrack release and Do The Math is the instrumental rock guitar album. Regardless of what you call them, both are records you shown own.
The Dual Releases
Andre has said that he’s released the two records because his interests took him in those directions, but I see a continuity of approach between the releases that in one respect, encourages treating the two works as a whole.
In addition to how an audience interacts with it, every record is a documentary in the sense that it is an experience frozen in time that demonstrates the emotional and artistic geography someone was at when they created the work.
Previously, Andre had made a series of recordings based around his Gibson/Oberheim Echoplex that took an evolutionary journey from ambient textures, to turntable guitar to glitch guitar. The records were revolutionary in the sense of the guitar seen as an analog controller, as a machine utilized as a means of expression, and looping turned on its head from an ambient sound-scape to a rhythmic and sonic tool of transformation.
It’s been a while since Andre’s Normalized CD, and these releases mark a turn away from reliance on a hardware dependent release and, in a non-intuitive way, a return to his roots.
The Hard Bargain
I think it’s important to set the tone for listener expectation. While calling The Hard Bargain an “Instrumental rock-guitar record” is completely accurate from a guitar-bass-drums arrangement standpoint, it sells the record short.
This is not an “instrumental rock guitar” release of song sketches as vehicles for lengthy guitar-solos. This record ignores traditional guitar solos and focuses instead on a relentless pursuit and re-contextualization of melody (for an example of the effectiveness of this, consider John Murphy’s In a heartbeat from 28 Days Later).
On previous releases, Andre got a lot of attention for the loops he created and manipulated, but his Jeff Beck by way of Bengali phrasing has always been dynamite and on these releases it’s front and center and it hits you square in the face on Subway Psychology (the first track of The Hard Bargain). When I heard the opening riff of this track, the first thing I imagined was watching a cool re-launch of a 1960’s BBC spy show with this track is the opening theme. Listening to the rest of the tracks in a similar way, it’s easy to hear the continuity of theme between the pieces, even as the sonic landscape morphs and imagine this as a soundtrack release.
Compositionally, the tracks are all developed in very interesting (and even subversive) ways. The thought and detail that Andre’s put into each track (and each tone – this record is an encyclopedia of 21st century guitar tones) is stunning and catching things like his subtle use of odd time signatures and interesting tonal devices demand concentration from the listener. This doesn’t work as background music the way that, say Joe Satriani’s Summer Song can, and in that light, the record might make the most listening sense as a series of singles that can be savored.
Moby made a fortune licensing every track off of Play and Andre could definitely do that with The Hard Bargain if he chose to do so, as it’s a much better release. There isn’t a bad track on the release, but standout tracks for me are Subway Psychology, the hard rock/country twang mash-up of 12-sided dice, Zen Gun (with it’s landscape compositional approach) and the meditative harp-guitar meets Silvertone Balancing Act.
Do The Math
It’s interesting to me that Andre thinks of this as an electronic release, because in many ways, this is the most straightforward guitar recording he’s released. While the record is certainly anchored by the various synthesized textures and rhythms, the guitar is still the star of this show. Andre’s guitar tones push the envelope even further than The Hard Bargain, and some of them are barely identifiable as guitar.
While Andre didn’t list industrial music as a specific influence – I see it all over this record in terms of approach and aesthetic. There’s an undeniable gleeful mad scientist vibe through out the entire recording and that giddiness rubs off on the listener. Even though there’s nothing hard rock in the arrangements on Do The Math, you will most likely find yourself turning up the volume and banging your head along with the music here.
All the tracks sound great but Slow Motion Saturation is a particular standout with it’s 21st century Hindustani heart worn its sleeve. The traditional tambura and tabla have been replaced with a percolating synthesized figure and the Indian influence hinted at in so much of Andre’s phrasing is displayed in a gorgeous melody that I could easily imagine on an Anoushka Shankar track. Andre has taken a traditional approach, turned it on its head to make it his own and ultimately honored those traditions by taking them somewhere new.
In terms of releases, Do The Math is the more instantly accessible of the two releases, and The Hard Bargain is more of the slow burner that will reward you with repeated exposure. It’s fortuitous that he’s released them at the same time, because they’re both recordings you should own.
The Hard Bargain and Do The Math are both available now on Band Camp and will soon be available ITunes and Amazon.