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Anna Butterss
Activities Dustin Krcatovich , July 8th, 2022 08:38

An album by the Los Angeles bassist is as sonically off the wall as it is intimate, according to Dustin Krcatovich

The best jazz always maintains an open ear to the surrounding world, including music well outside the more square-friendly parameters of the genre. Aside from maybe hip hop, it may be the most omnivorous musical form of the last century, as evidenced by Charlie Parker’s love of Stravinsky, Miles Davis melting down Sly Stone and Stockhausen, and a litany of other examples.

Bassist Anna Butterss, who has done time with drummer/producer Makaya McCraven as well as pop/rock artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Aimee Mann, demonstrates this same sort of omnivorousness on Activities, her first outing as a leader. The album careens wildly from flute-forward spiritual dreaminess to Ralph Records angularity, from bubbling IDM to a catchy, hypnotic sampledelia straight out of early 2000s college radio.

Most striking of all of Butterss’ adventurous sonic choices, perhaps, are the bursts of 80s smooth-fusion textures which occasionally barrel their way through the mix. Though vaporwave and its myriad related microgenres have long fetishised these kinds of sounds, few have so brazenly incorporated once-anathema sonics like the heavily processed horn stabs which punctuate ‘Number One’ or the Art of Noise synth drip of ‘La Danza’ or ‘The Worst Thing You Could Do For Your Health’ without first ratcheting up the ironic distance.

Activities, though, never feels like a concerted effort to be eclectic, nor like a joke. The album’s genre agnosticism instead reflects the rootlessness that goes along with Butterss’ being an Australian immigrant adrift in the United States. Surely, the feeling is even more acute during a global pandemic, and even more than that in Los Angeles, whose pink-purple neon plasticity surely exerted some influence on the album’s sound. It is also at times a mournful record: the queasy minimalist solo bass chug of ‘Do Not Disturb’, Butterss has said, was part of her process for working through the death of a close friend.

In other words, while some of its unusual aural trappings may be big and attention-grabbing, Activities is at its heart a very personal record in many ways. Its production feels not like dazzle camouflage so much as simply the correct way to tell Butterss’ story. In this regard, it may as well be a whispery bedroom pop record. So sue her if she’s got too much going on musically to go down that path.