Music

Sean Noonan Brewed By Noon: Stories to Tell

It's fusion, Jim, but not as we know it.


Sean Noonan Brewed by Noon

Stories to Tell

Label: Songlines
US Release Date: 2007-01-09
UK Release Date: 2007-01-29
Amazon
iTunes

Was ever a musical descriptor more maligned and ridiculed than the term ‘fusion’? Since roughly the turn of the millennium, when the widespread availability of broad-band internet connections made file sharing pretty much a compulsory activity for voracious music-lovers, and led to a culture where basically everybody is listening to everything, we’ve seen quite a few previously derided musical forms make startling comebacks: folk, psychedelia, even prog have all, to a greater or lesser extent, been rehabilitated and made acceptable, even fashionable for a new generation of hipsters. Fusion, however, remains doggedly unacceptable, unfashionable, excluded from the party. Frankly, it’s easy to see why. While musical virtuosity is to be admired, fusion has never quite recovered from the stupendous gross-out extravagances it crested in the mid-70s, with its absurd displays of technique for its own sake and testosterone-fuelled, endurance-test solos that stretch the patience of even the most open-minded listener.

So, with all this in mind, it’s kind of interesting to see a young contemporary musician trying to do something fresh with the basic idea. For his second album under the Brewed by Noon banner, drummer Sean Noonan has pulled together various disparate musical, cultural, and geographical influences in a brave attempt to create a unique world-fusion. On Stories to Tell, Noonan fuses his own Irish folk heritage with Downtown New York hipsterism, Malian griot singing, overblown rock theatrics, and a dash of soul, coming up with a finished product that sounds much as you’d imagine an after-hours jam session at the United Nations to end up.

On the surface, the album seems mostly to deal in incongruity, flinging together these strangely disconnected elements and almost daring the listener to declare that the Emperor’s new clothes ain’t what they’re cracked up to be, that the fusion in progress simply doesn’t cut it. But the strange thing is that it works. It’s in these very incongruities that some nuggets of beauty lie. Perhaps the most striking and unfamiliar sound on the album is the voice of Malian griot -- or ‘praise-singer’ -- Abdoulaye Diabate: a high, soaring, straining, yearning, unremittingly spiritual sound, voiced in the little-known Bambara dialect of West Africa. It's a sound that seems to stretch back generations to an ancient world where ancestors walk the earth with ghosts and unborn children, forming a bridge of lifetimes to the present day. It’s the kind of sound that normally only appeals to world music cognoscenti, but Noonan’s pulled the neat trick of teaming it up with Thierno Camara’s ebullient and slickly modern Afro-beat electric basslines, instantly catapulting Diabate into the modern world, where we’re forced to re-evaluate our reactions to this kind of musical tradition. Then, for an extra layer of disorientation, Noonan employs the services of Downtown Improv stalwarts, guitarist Marc Ribot and viola-player Mat Maneri, to overlay proceedings with a rough and gnarly layer of grit. It’s a gambit that, for the most part, works brilliantly. Ribot is on fire throughout, spitting out jagged, fiery, bleeding solos, while Maneri offers maudlin drones and microtonal peregrinations that constantly take the listener by surprise. Together they knock the smooth edges off the shiny production job and give the album a nicely serrated finish.

There are also elements that work less well. The tracks that draw upon Noonan’s Gaelic roots come over as slightly fey, misty-eyed evocations of an imagined Ireland peculiar to the imaginations of second or third generation Americans with Irish surnames -- despite the authentic vocals of folk-singer Susan McKeown. Some of the attempts at stadium rock end up as unintentionally amusing parodies of melodramatic rock-opera that you need a PhD in Meatloaf Studies to fully appreciate, and Dawn Padmore’s thirstily impassioned soul vocals on the album’s prime clanger, "Pineapple", are so ridiculously over the top as to be virtually upside down. However, these quibbles pale into insignificance in the face of the album’s stand-out track, "Scabies" -- a super-heavy, guitar-trio, avant-jazz-rock monster with Ribot absolutely shredding it up and Camara’s bass letting loose great, funky elasticated ideas, coming on like Richard Bona sitting in with Scorch Trio.

Maybe there’s life in the idea of fusion yet. Maybe it’s time to start looking out for Return to Forever albums in second hand record stores, ready for the day that you can impress your hipster pals with your ahead-of-the-game prescience. In the meantime, Noonan’s keeping the idea warm for us, and it sounds like he’s loving every second of it.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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