As a lover of bright melodies and arrangements, I knew I was in for a challenge when I popped in the latest disc from the Red Krayola. The legendary, though still largely unknown, experimental outfit led by Mayo Thompson has been putting out records off and on since 1967. Though I’ve read much about Thompson and Red Krayola in the past, my first-hand knowledge of their past catalog is as sparse as the arrangements that litter Fingerpainting. Having been told that it takes time to get into Thompson’s work, I listened to the album three times all the way through and recorded my first reaction, which was quite simply, “huh?” Quite the ambitious experiment on paper, Fingerpainting is an attempt to cross early, unreleased Red Krayola songs (if you can call them songs) from the late ‘60s with sounds, loops, and drum machines used today. And maybe I’m missing the whole point, but there seems to not be enough of either to hold your attention for any more than a minute here and there.
It would be shortsighted to simply discard the album as unlistenable noise, but a lot of Fingerpainting is just that. Noises pop out here and there, a drum machine starts and stops occasionally for no apparent reason. There are moments, which are tough to decipher, where some semblance of structure exists. These portions are easier to stomach for the average listener, though are quite disjointed in their own right. They are buried among such excessive nonsense, though, that by the time you wake up and start paying attention again, the nonsense has returned. I discovered upon my fourth listen that I got more out of the record by using it as background noise. It was at this point, when I had totally focused my attention elsewhere, that subtle patterns and textures emerged, and I found myself to be enjoying the disc. But as an active listen, Fingerpainting just doesn’t have enough going on. If you’re a hardcore Red Krayola fan or intrigued by the avant-garde, you will probably enjoy yourself thoroughly. But for the average listener, too much effort needs to be expended to get limited return.
I’ve heard that other Red Krayola work is not quite so inaccessible and much more rewarding, so don’t take this as a call to dismiss their work altogether. Just don’t go Fingerpainting unless you know what you’re dipping your hands into.