Thou Shalt Boogie!
, March 4th, 2014 08:56
In the popular (British) imagination, Norway's musical trajectory over the past 50 years has been pretty curious, to say the least. Regularly lampooned as the nation with the most "nul points" in the Eurovision song contest (it also holds the record for coming last most often), this narrative was somewhat undermined by the arrival in the 80s of a-Ha and their all-conquering pristine techno pop. Norway then rose to prominence again in the 90s as the fetid birthplace of extreme black metal, church burning, corpse painting and brain eating.
And the next chapter in this eclectic journey? It's Rune Grammofon, a label that since 1998 has put out such an astonishingly consistent stream of home-grown, high quality (mostly instrumental) jazz/rock/prog/skronk that I'm compelled to ask, what exactly is it that they're putting in the water up there? Much as you could once, if you were a fan of forward-thinking electronica, put a random pin in the Warp discography and find something you'd love, it's still possible to do the same with RG's catalogue if you're the kind of person who gets excited at the thought of Mahavishnu Orchestra simultaneously jamming with Ornette Coleman and Black Sabbath.
Bushman's Revenge (named after a particularly potent brand of South African chilli sauce) are long-serving members of the RG family, who also throw Cream, Hendrix, Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane and the Pixies into the mix of influences (to which I'd add the austerely heavy delights of King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator). And standing in the background – as with just about all the acts on RG – is the singular figure of Norwegian avant-jazz guitarist Terje Rypdal, who put out some amazing Euro-fusion material on ECM in the 1970s.
Bushman's Revenge produce a sound that's both nocturnally dark and cosmically bright, arriving at their songs via a combination of improvisation and composition. Significantly, they've augmented their power trio line-up on (the excellently titled) Thou Shalt Boogie! with the addition of David Wallumrød's Hammond organ, which pushes the band out even further into the realms of exploratory space rock. Explosive opening track 'I Am An Astronaut' lives up to this billing and then some, its initial sepulchral atmosphere detonated by a fury of light speed percussion from drummer Gard Nilssen. The Hammond is a key feature throughout, but rather than playing lead or blocking out chords, it's used textually in the same way that an ambient or drone artist might use synths to build up layers of sound. The bubbling chorused guitar of band leader Even Helte Hermansen adds to the sense of urgency and propulsion.
'Baklengs Inn I Fuglekassa' is the first of the album's two extended compositions, and pivots on a big gnarly blues riff not dissimilar to something from labelmates the Hedvig Mollestad Trio. Rune Nergaard's bass plays the opening theme before Hermansen's guitar picks up the riff and pushes it in new directions, jazzy and playful one moment, trippy and dense the next. Much like Terje Rypdal, Hermansen has a way of inhabiting a song without letting his playing overpower it. The track dissolves into a simpler, more meditative take on the riff backed by the drone from an Indian shruti box. The guitars stretch and bliss out in the background, then gradually combine with the swirling organ in a slow motion crescendo that tips its hat to Pink Floyd's 'Echoes'.
'Waltz Me Baby, Waltz Me All Night Long' is like a skeletal version of Radiohead's 'Pyramid Song' (itself loosely inspired by Charles Mingus' 'Freedom'), a fire slowly burning with growing intensity in a mountainside cave, and features a fantastic piece of controlled guitar playing, from plucked notes to shimmering luminosity and back down again. The second big track 'Kugeln Und Kraut' starts with an awkward fuzzy guitar riff that the other instruments sound like they're trying to force fit it into their jigsaw, but it soon coalesces into a hammered pulse which picks up speed as it goes along. There's some tricksy jazz rocking guitar on display here, like Rypdal or Robert Fripp at their most discursive, but Hermansen keeps returning to the main riff lest the sound gets too untethered. On saying that, the swelling organ (sorry) sometimes threatens to slide into Deep Purple/Uriah Heep territory, and the track perhaps overstays its welcome a bit, like a stoned guest sprawled unconscious across your sofa. The album ends with the short but sweet 'Hurra For Mamma', a gentle lullaby that could be a mellow cover of one of the Beatles' more psychedelic tracks. If you've been meaning to stick that random pin in the Rune Grammofon catalogue, but haven't got round to it yet, then Thou Shalt Boogie! is a fine place to start.