Steve Gunn & Mike Cooper: FRKWYS 11: Cantos de Lisboa

The latest FRKWYS collaboration is a fascinating musical conversation between musicians from two different generations of experimental music.

Steve Gunn & Mike Cooper

FRKWYS 11: Cantos de Lisboa

US Release: 2014-06-24
Label: RVNG
UK Release: 2014-06-23
Label Website

Cantos de Lisboa is the latest in the RVNG series FRKWYS, which pairs contemporary artists with musicians that influenced them. Pairing Steve Gunn and Mike Cooper on this 11th installment of the series couldn't have come at a better time. The two are now labelmates on Paradise of Bachelors. Steve Gunn is just a year or so removed from his breakthrough record, Time Off, and Cooper's classic early-'70s albums Trout Steel and Places I Know/The Machine Gun Co. were just reissued to critical acclaim. What the two players prove on Cantos de Lisboa, though, is that this is no mere victory lap or toss-off release. The two connect deeply in this music and deliver an exciting, unpredictable set.

"Saudade Do Santos-o-Vehlo" opens the record with a curious back and forth between the players. It begins with an intricate, pastoral acoustic roll. The song has a melodic center, but the guitars stretch out and experiment with space. The results are tuneful but tangled. Cooper starts to lay some slide work over the soft opening of the song, and all of a sudden there's a wild-eyed edge to the song. The nascent wandering early on in the track yields this discovery, this minor explosion of sound as Gunn's guitar whips up its own churn and Cooper responds in kind with unpredictable slide phrasings.

It's a track at once traditional, building on folk, blues, and American Primitive structures, and dynamic. That combination sets the table for the rest of the record. "Pena Panorama" doubles down on the blues influence, with the pulsing repetition of chords and the shuffle of Cooper's slide work. But there's also looping notes running backwards, a distant shadowy drone, that coats the song in an otherworldly feel. "Song for Charlie" is the most challenging piece here, screeching and pulsing through feedback drone and the slapping buzz of the hard-played acoustic in the background. It's a hard left from the tracks that came before, but also a logical move for Cooper and Gunn, two players ever trying to push at space and layers in their songs, ever searching for new shifts in their expansive set of skills. It's also a song that leads, oddly, to the most traditionally structured song, the excellent "Pony Blues". It's got a deep blues run, but the two add their subtle humming textures and twist phrasings just enough to remind you of the Tacoma School of playing. It also features Cooper's bellowing voice singing the aching tale at the heart of the song.

Cantos de Lisboa may feel disjointed with all these musical shifts, but Gunn and Cooper are smart enough to lay faint connective tissue between songs. So the squall and thrum of "Lampedusa 2013" reminds you both of "Song for Charlie" and the clearer parts of "Pena Panorama". The listener seems to be along with the pair of musicians, discovering with them the strange corners and eccentricities that make these songs come alive. It's easy to see the musical visions Gunn and Cooper share, but in playing together they also enhance each other's skills and push each other to new places. This record is exciting yet rooted in tradition, comforting yet willing to trouble you, shake you out of your expectations. But, mostly, it's a fascinating musical conversation between musicians from two different generations of experimental music. Gunn and Cooper remind us of what has stayed the same, even as it all seems to keep changing.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.