[21 March 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Drummer Weasel Walter is known for his blast beats, and guitarist Mary Halvorson is considered one of the hardest pickers in the biz, so the most surprising sonic quality of Electric Fruit might be its quietness. Fruit is an improvised six-track pow-wow between Walter, Halvorson, and trumpeter Peter Evans. On occasion, these three weirdos push each other into areas of overdriven sonic violence, but more often Fruit sounds like a collective dare: How quickly and precisely can three musicians play together without ever lapsing into a conventional rhythm or tonality?
On “The Stench of Cyber-Durian”—this thing’s got the best song titles around—Halvorson starts with what sounds like a cute little ostinato figure. Or at least that’s what we’re led to believe for about 11 notes, until she starts messing with it. Walter darts around her while Evans blows one note over and over, seemingly intent on exploring every possible iteration of that pitch. From there they embark on a capricious 11-minute journey through scritches and scratches, arpeggios and melodies, prettiness and godawful rooting pig noises. Have you ever dropped everything simply to appreciate how many different sounds exist in the world? If so, this may be the album for you.
Even when someone does threaten to start grooving, the other two refuse to succumb. Halvorson, who evinces the biggest bag of tricks, will sometimes offer a lovely bit of Metheny minimalism that threatens to become music you could play at a dinner party. Sometimes Walter and Evans coalesce around her dominant rhythm; more often, they simply mess with it until everything breaks down again, bliddledybloop. This shouldn’t imply that they’re not playing nicely together, though. The interplay of these three musicians often resembles a conversation among highly intelligent people who know they should listen respectfully but, try as they might, can’t stop thinking of stuff to say and so continually talk over one another’s responses. It’s hard-charging interdependence. Think a late-night dorm-room conspiracy theory session or an episode of The McLaughlin Group. (Same thing?)
Halvorson and Walter play their music with lots of hard consonants: Brisk. Brittle. Crisp. Rattly. Lickety-split. (Though admittedly, there’s not much Slack.) Even when Halvorson uses pedals to add blasts of distortion or cool pitch-bend effects, she cuts off her sounds abruptly. This is miles away from, say, a Last Exit-style blowout, where you can get lost in gooey globs of feedback and noise. Every sound here seems intentional, and there’s nowhere for the notes to hide. Because of the nature of his instrument, Evans’ playing is more legato, but he deftly keeps up with the other two and slides through an impressive variety of timbres.
Electric Fruit makes for captivating listening. Whether you’ll feel compelled to play it a bunch is another matter, but I suspect there’ll come a day in the not too distant future when you just wanna hear three music geeks at the top of their game, playing, with obvious care and delight, music that’d sound like the infernal tortures of hell to 90 percent of the yaks you have to tolerate every day. May this deeply social collaboration chase them screaming from the room.