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Dead Rider
Chills On Glass Nick Hutchings , May 15th, 2014 11:08

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Todd Rittmann, the driving force behind Dead Rider first came to my attention with the vastly underrated band US Maple, and their difficult yet rewarding first album Long Hair In 3 Stages produced by Jim O'Rourke. Like a lot of records on Chicago label SKiN GRAFT, it featured some excellent creative packaging, in this case an aluminium sleeve with each one individually bent and hole punched. At the time I interviewed vocalist Al Johnson for my fanzine, who noted that the group inhaled so much aluminium dust that they no longer knew what was good.

Although Johnson was being a little harsh on himself, there's no doubt that US Maple were criminally underlooked. Their work was staccato, syncopated, slanting off at all angles, with unusual time signatures that would finish as unexpectedly as they began. It was Trout Mask Replica as played by Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. Rittmann's new band Dead Rider has shown that his inventive guitar work, seconded only by the taut musicianship of The Jesus Lizard's Duane Denison can get into a groove, like Ciccone Youth to US Maple's Sonic Youth.

Chills On Glass is the third album by Dead Rider and their first on Drag City, the label US Maple went on to join. In effect the group take their name from their leader, who loosely translated his name into German – Todd for Dead, Rittmann for Rider – and then back again.

The instrumental sound is fulsome and well produced; 'New Eyes' breaks down like the middle of 'Djed' by Tortoise, and the album is full of self-conscious electronic glitches and digital decay as punctuation. Sometimes its 80s-esque; 'Blank Screen' starts like a game over sting on an old Firefox arcade game, at other moments it has a menace that John Carpenter could have created on his primitive synthesisers circa his Assault On Precinct 13 soundtrack.

It's also creepy and crepuscular on claustrophobic chiller 'The Unnatural Act', which includes discordant piano as played by a skeletal hand not heard since 'Red Right Hand' by the Bad Seeds. On the flipside, a sense of humour is fully engaged in 'Sex Grip Enemy' which breaks down with the emphatic shout of “peanut butter!” Given Iggy Pop and indeed David Yow's propensity for nudity and smearing peanut butter in places where other rock stars can't reach, perhaps this one's for them.

Chills On Glass has been sequenced, so that there are gaps between the songs big enough to drive a huge tour bus through, but each nugget is such an alien blast that you need a break to re-evaluate what just lubed past your lobes. The unwitting star of US Maple and now viscose virtuoso Todd Rittmann has hit on a formula with Dead Rider. Let's hope they get the audience that they deserve, one that US Maple should always have had.

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Nick Hutchings
May 16, 2014 12:54pm

Addendum no. 1 - about Todd Ritmann from Dead Rider
I wanted to find out more about what makes Todd tick so I recently got in touch with some old friends of his. Mark Fischer, the man behind SKiN GRAFT records, whose dad owned the aluminium factory in St Louis used for Long Hair In 3 Stages tells me how he came across Rittmann. “Way back, just a month or so after SKiN GRAFT Records released its first 7" and comic book set from Dazzling Killmen, Todd's pre- Mercury Players band was the first music submission the label received. I nearly released it, but I wasn't quite sure if the record label was going to be anything more than a side project to the SKiN GRAFT comic 'zine at that time. A bit further down the line, SKiN GRAFT had established itself as a somewhat legitimate record company and Shorty was one of the label's premiere acts. When Shorty broke up, it really stung, however when I learned that Al (Johnson) and Mark (Shippy) were joining forces with Todd and Pat to form U.S. Maple, I knew great things would come of it."

"Years later, for our 50th release, I began assembling the Camp SKiN GRAFT Now Wave compilation. This was intended to be both a tongue in cheek statement of intent as well as a document of the community that had rallied around that label at that time. The compilation was made up of tracks from virtually every artist that had participated in making the label what it was up until that point. I selected the song order and pacing very carefully, with an ear toward assembling a coherent album which would ultimately bring together 33 different acts. It started coming together very well, but it was missing an opening. As The Browns, Todd created the track "My Name In Italics" - and in the 45 second running time he delivered the perfect introduction. It was elegant but clumsy -- and genuinely haunting, but also funny. I can't even imagine the compilation without that opening salvo”.

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May 16, 2014 12:56pm

Addendum no. 2 - about Todd Rittmann from Dead Rider
Erstwhile band mate Mark Shippy (from US Maple) “Todd is definitely one of the hardest working guys I know, with whatever he’s doing. He’s got a great sensibility about both the technical aspects and the aesthetic aspects of sound. Even if I hadn’t ever been in a band with Todd, I’d be a fan of Dead Rider. Without a doubt, they are different than any other band out there right now; they stand out in an exceptional way, in my opinion.”

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May 16, 2014 12:57pm

Addendum no. 3 - current Dead Rider bandmate Matt Espy on Todd Rittmann:
“The first time I played music with Todd we had one of those, rare instant musical connections. When that happens you find yourself in a kaleidoscope of music and colour. Then the best thing happened, we looked at each other and got out the sledgehammers.”

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May 20, 2014 10:36am

head and shoulders above almost everything i've heard this year. amazing record. i've worn "blank screen" out completely.

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Jul 11, 2014 3:20pm

This album is the stuff of genius, miles ahead of everything else...

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Go diego
Sep 12, 2015 9:15pm

Great This album is the stuff of genius

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