, April 17th, 2014 08:55
If you're averse to a protracted drum solo, you might want to look away now. Yet that would be doing Man Forever (a.k.a Oneida drummer Kid Millions) one hell of a disservice: Millions' amorphous, bohemian percussion troupe, famed for multi-layered, 18-minute-plus single-stroke workouts, has never been a forum for ripping solos. On the contrary, since 2010, the project's well-drilled bash frenzies have been built on a more self-effacing logic: collaborators are directed to melt selflessly into a composition's whole, and painstakingly pitched drum-heads are exalted as highly as musicianly prowess, if not more.
If you need further proof that this isn't a tediously technical vanity project (assuming you haven't yet heard MF's music itself), check out one of the band's hilariously self-deprecating promo flicks - especially the 'performance notes' video, on which Millions delivers a mock 'drum school' tuition in live performance with cool, deadpan humour. He's clearly all-too aware of the poncy, high-brow connotations attached to this project, hence the commendable attempts to knock himself down a peg or two through amusing online shorts.
Still, MF's releases, this one included, are hardly bulging with excess Lols-Per-Minute. Let's admit it: on paper, a record stuffed with lengthy and technically challenging rhythm workouts that involve almost-scientific tonal exactness - and little else - sounds really dry and, well, pretentious. It's to Millions' credit, then, that Ryonen is as listenable and absorbing as anything his alma mater, Oneida, has put out, despite its distinct lack of anything resembling a hummable tune. Moreover, quite improbably, Millions manages to pull off quite an unusual dichotomy in that the two tracks here sound like his day job simultaneously being stripped back to basics (via the primalism of pure drums) and taken to their logical extreme (via the extended, hallucinatory epic-ness of its all).
While Millions continues to stretch our expectations of what is achievable with a bunch of tuned drums on the churchly 'The Clear Realization' and the armadilli-stampede of 'Ryonen', what he's doing here is really nothing new. He's part of a lineage that extends back to Steve Reich and his 1971 Drumming movement, and then way back to west African ceremonials that pre-date our age of music as an entity for entertainment purposes. Despite their surface-level unoriginality, the tracks exude an aura of timelessness, a spiritual dimension, a sense that, somewhere out there in the void, these canoning drums are soundtracking the great battles of antiquity in the sky. It's transportative stuff, indeed.
In the past, MF's revolving door line-up has seen the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Brian Chase, Sightings' Richard Hoffman and Teeth Of The Sea's Sam Barton come and go. On this outing, Millions is aided by New York drumming crack team, So Percussion, acolytes of the aforementioned Reich and '4.33' experimentalist John Cage. Thus they're the perfect allies to Millions and his subservience-to-the-music ethos, because anyone seriously immersed in Cage's work will have developed a keen sense of openness and flexibility, not to mention a unphased readiness to plunge into unpredictability. Accordingly, they drum with workman-like zeal. But that doesn't mean to say they plod.
The beats on 18-minute-long title track are crisply superlative, scarily precise and uplifting, with a focus and immediacy that's absent on MF's previous cuts. Gone is the haze of phasing and the spaces between the beats where colliding tones dance round one another. Indeed, this is a heavier, more relentless affair, which often has the power to set in motion strange side effects on the listener. For instance, if you continually replay 'Ryonen' through headphones loudly, after a while its rapid-fire rat-a-planning begins to sound like Millions has actually mic-ed up the tumbling plastic avalanches of a lottery drum. But it's only a minor concern.
Where 2012's Pansophical Cataract was a bit of a meditative blur, Ryonen is more like an adrenaline hit, pumped with rushing rhythms that get the heart hammering against the ribcage. And that's what it's able to do to you merely through speakers. Imagine what it's capable of in a live setting.