[4 July 2007]
Coming out of the indie scene of Weilheim, Germany the Tied and Tickled Trio have released yet another album of cerebral minimalist jazz and electro-dub. The band, which isn’t really a trio at all, emanates from other Weilheim acts including the ambient rock group The Notwist and indietronic outfit Lali Puna. The trio’s 2003 effort, Observing Systems, was a successful attempt at electro-jazz fusion, blending the traditional with the avant garde to create an ambitious album of danceable grooves and electronic soundscapes—sort of like Medeski Martin and Wood if they dropped some peyote, jammed out for days and then tweaked around with Pro Tools.
Aelita takes us down a separate, yet equally eclectic path. The songs are dark and brooding. The album is intensely deliberate and oddly coherent (The record is book-ended by “Aelita 1” and “3”, while “Aelita 2” shows up smack in the middle). Songs stretch out beyond the eight-minute mark, and can sometimes go four or five minutes deep with little, or no, percussion. The instrumental dub on Aelita has the free-form feel of a jazz composition while at the same time possessing the spatial dreamscapes present in so much atmospheric pop these days. This unlikely combination creates a soothing, yet ominous, feeling—sort of like an approaching storm.
Aelita’s most obvious example of minimalist dub is the bong-hit inducer “Tamaghis”. The song creeps is slowly: light bells ring as a stunted guitar echoes like a reverberation down an empty hallway. The progression is seamless as an organ riff glides in about half way through. Percussion, again, is light but pervades throughout, engulfing the selection with a bevy of head-bobbing bass-and-cymbal combos. At seven-and-a-half minutes, “Tamaghis” could serve as a cinematic backdrop, or soundtrack a quick blunt session.
The most drum-heavy track lies in the spook-filled, organ-fueled “A Rocket Debris Cloud Drifts”—another seven-plus-minute excursion into uncharted musical territory. With this song, the Trio makes a brief foray into electro-funk, yet decidedly minimalist as well. A couple a brief drum fills feigns at giving the selection a danceable quality, but it is the creepy organs which outweigh them, eventually engulfing the song with a haunting low-pitched squeal.
“Chlebnikov” is equally ominous with its haunting, drawn out organ notes simpering over a repetitious xylophone riff. The strings come in about half way through accentuating the haunted house feeling of the track. Before the album closes out with, yet another, “Aelita 3” we get the groovy “Other Voices Other Rooms”, a winding, danceable display of minimalist funk and electro-dub.
Essentially Aelita is a concept album without any lyrics. The songs emit the desolate, solitary nature of a Texas landscape, with their sparse and textured arrangements. The album isn’t likely to evoke intense interest among jazz enthusiasts (some may even consider it banal). But within this genre, which has not fully embraced the era of Pro-Tools, The Tied and Tickled Trio has constructed a compelling argument to meld these two worlds together. Let’s hope these musicians quit their day jobs (as indie rockers) because they could do some groundbreaking things with these traditional genres.