Threadbare – Silver Dollar Review

Mimic, Guillermo del Toro’s 1997 creature feature, revolves around a mutated, highly evolved sort of insect capable of making itself look like a human being. Embracing a predatory strategy called aggressive mimicry – with people as their prey of choice – the insects’ appearance becomes an interplay of shadows and deception. Their humanoid silhouette is unstable and misleading, made of moving organs and chitin exoskeletons, yet strangely beguiling in its alienness. Silver Dollar, the debut record by Chicago trio Threadbare, is a similar creature in style, with a fluidly metallized, rocking, and faintly dangerous exterior projected from within a free jazz organism.

Jason Stein, Emerson Hunton, and Ben Cruz are primarily improvisers and jazz musicians, so it’s only natural for the genotype of their new group to rise from Chicago’s avant-garde and free jazz scenes and influences. Yet, the music on Silver Dollar adopts various, often surprising phenotypes. On the opening “And When Circumstances Arise,” Stein’s warbling bass clarinet and Cruz’s slippery guitar chords lead the trio through a maze of scattered jazz and prog rock formations and slam them into harder, driven segments. Hunton’s pointilist and to the point drumming then anchors the sparse, short clarinet and guitar licks, constructs a firmer surface, and allows them to interlock in noisy and hypnotizing repetitions of crunchy riffs, before ultimately dissolving again. This becomes just one of the record’s many rousing metal-like moments that ooze with resolve.

At least on paper, Threadbare shares many similarities with Catatonic Effigy, another ensemble of free jazz/improv musicians that found themselves in metal waters. But unlike Putrid Tendency, which was created with the clear intent of playing death metal, Silver Dollar’s steely exterior seems more of an instinctual reaction. As if the shared ideas and energies of the musicians absolutely needed to sublimate into heavy forms and could have not coalesced into anything else. Still, between moments of freakout and solid rhythms featured on “70 Degrees and Counting Down” and the rough, droning “24 Mesh Veils,” the trio entertain idioms closer to free improv and jazz traditions. Occasionally, these bring to mind Stein’s collaborations with pianist Ivo Perelman or drummer Tim Daisy. “Threadbare 02” is rendered especially captivating by the band’s collective improvisational experience, screeching and fluttering along gently, patiently, leaving behind a faint smell of ozone and vertiginous openness.

The real tour de force arrives near the end of the record, when Stein, Hunton, and Cruz abandon themselves completely to metal, drone, and noise elements. “Threadbare” is all atmosphere and probing at first, constructed from improvisational tendrils feeling out spaces and ideas. But soon these sparser phrases coagulate, assemble into repetitive, distorted grooves, and start circulating and circulating, until they finally climax in a sharp whirlpool of metallic noise. As a counterpoint to this song’s attack that’s incisive rather than heavy, the title track “Silver Dollar” stomps around in giant jazz metal-cum-sludge boots, stylistically not far removed from Zu or Ottone Pesante, while Stein’s clarinet screams and roars against a backdrop of distorted guitars and rolling drum hits as heavy as a neutron star.

The closing “Untitled” is a downer to the preceding uppers and trails off in a ballad-like flow. Quavering clarinet spurts are accompanied by a guitar that plinks and plonks, finds a melodious lead, and drops a proggy full stop. It’s an idiosyncratic ending to an idiosyncratic album that exists simultaneously in multiple genres and styles and is perhaps similarly capable of appealing to multiple audiences at the same time.

Rating: Very Good!
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: FLAC
Label: NoBusiness Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: May 29th, 2020

« »