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Matt Nelson
Lower Bottoms Dustin Krcatovich , October 20th, 2014 10:29

Being a for-hire musician seems weird. Making a living as a musician lends itself to strange bedfellows: in my own adventures as a (unsuccessful) musician, my collaborators have included (among others) a pianist who played with both a jazz-fusion group and a nascent Laurel Halo, a bassist who plays free improv when he's not busy playing "Celtic pop", and a cellist who toured with Josh Groban and Ryan Adams. There's nothing wrong with any of this—hey, it's all music, and we all gotta eat—but it's definitely a different ballgame than just hanging out with your friends and making a racket.

Matt Nelson, as far as I can tell, is a professional saxophonist. He's toured with the insufferably capitalised (and yes, I mean that as a double entendre) tUnE-yArDs, plays occasionally with Brooklyn pop experimentalists Skeletons, and has most recently become a member of aut tenor sax quartet Battle Trance. Lower Bottoms is Nelson's solo debut, wherein he explores the outer limits of his chosen instrument via extended techniques and electronic manipulation. Though the basic premise sounded intriguing, and despite my own aforementioned positive experiences, I have to admit that some of Nelson's pedigree made me concerned that his solo work might be a little too pop-damaged for my tastes.

Not so. In fact, Lower Bottoms is furious and fucked, lean and mean, bearing a torch whose burden is shared by fellow horn brutalisers like Borbetomagus, Mats Gustafsson, Cold Turkey, and Paul Flaherty. It's much more a noise record than a jazz one: Nelson's sax may be the primary sound source, and his base tone owes something to Aylerian skronk tradition, but the electronics do their fair share of the heavy lifting. As a result, the four dizzying, gnarled soundscapes which make up Lower Bottoms sound less downtown jazz club, more Detroit noise basement (or maybe an NYC art loft, if those aren't all occupied by yuppies and members of Interpol by now).

It is often difficult to suss out on Lower Bottoms just where the sax ends and the electronics begin. Opening track 'Sunk Cost' starts relatively grounded, but doesn't take long to get into strange electronic depths; the harsh, delay-saturated squall of 'Sworn Enemies' goes even further, and is so heavily treated that it almost sounds like Nelson is taking a violin bow to his horn before running it through a battery of stomp boxes. The third and most untouched track, 'Motor Mouth' is an extended blurt more in line with acoustic improv tradition, but it's hardly a reprieve, and the closing drone of 'To Believe In What' comes back full-throttle with a droning track that sounds almost like a one-horn reimagining of Earth 2.

If any tUnE-yArDs fans are dedicated enough to check out Lower Bottoms, they might walk away dissatisfied: this is an uncompromising, dense record, and not for the faint of heart. Still, I'd recommend it to them as much as anyone else. Left to his own devices, Nelson is a fresh musical mercenary screaming against the heart of darkness, and I look forward to hearing what he blows out next.