Needs More Trombone: Elektro Guzzi Boost Their Organic Techno Approach with 'Polybrass'
Austria's prolific, three-piece instrumental outfit Elektro Guzzi add horns to their sound with the daring, dynamic new album, Polybrass.
26 October 2018
Austria's Elektro Guzzi have made a career out of taking established musical ideas and approaching them unconventionally. Specifically, instrumental techno music. Without the aid of computers, loops or prerecorded material, they've managed to break down the wall between the organic and the synthetic.
Now, with Polybrass, they've added a new wrinkle. With the aid of a three-piece horn section – specifically, three trombones – Elektro Guzzi have upped the ante on what the techno genre can accomplish without the expected instrumentation. Band members Bernhard Breuer, Bernhard Hammer, and Jakob Schneidewind have been joined by trombonists Hilary Jeffrey, Daniel Riegler and Partin Ptak on trombones, but their appearance on Polybrass (and on tour) does not constitute your typical horn section. The horns are used to represent a modular synthesizer, with each trombone representing one oscillator.
You get the sense of what the band is trying to accomplish right off the bat – the trio of trombones kick off the opening track "Backlash" with a deliberate, regal fanfare. But they're at such a low register and eventually coupled with slashes of distortion that it comes off more drone-like than your average horn section. It sounds like Sunn O))) joining forces with a marching band. But eventually, the other band members join in with a percussion-heavy instrumental bed.
"Black Chamber" has the trombones playing in a more muted style, offering a slower, simpler approach than the frantic drumming that accompany them. The song is a great example of a unique musical makeup finding new and exciting ways to perform an established genre. The song bides its time and eventually ratchets up the tension beautifully.
Another area where Elektro Guzzi try something new (for them, anyway) is the inclusion of their first actual vocal track. On "Miney Mick", they collaborate with Lisa Kortschak, who adds her quirky, engaging singing to the music's frenetic gallop. The song is layered and mature but still quite playful and a welcome addition to any contemporary dancefloor.
Tracks like "Magnet" offer an almost minimalist approach to the music, as the trombones are almost painfully simple in their execution. Slow, droning chords make way for some funky, syncopated percussion. On "Yuugen", the trombones serve a more traditional purpose, offering clipped accents like a more straightforward funk arrangement. The repetition here – as on most of Polybrass – offers a heavy debt to Krautrock pioneers like Neu! or Kraftwerk. And when an actual trombone solo appears at about the halfway mark, a true jazz approach begins to take shape.
Elektro Guzzi – a band never really known as conformists – turn a definite corner on Polybrass. While they've always seemed restless, it's here where they truly embrace unconventionality. The addition of a unique and creative element to their sound has given them endless possibilities, which they use to maximum advantage. Sometimes you have to throw out the rulebook to create really beautiful art. On Polybrass, Elektro Guzzi and their three new members seem to have done just that.