June 1995 – EP reviews – The Monsoon Bassoon’s ‘Redoubtable’ (“inventive, and with an inquisitiveness which we haven’t heard over this side of the fence for many years”)

14 Jun

The Monsoon Bassoon: 'Redoubtable' EP

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘Redoubtable’ EP

Currently sparking off in the recesses of the British underground, thriving with the punks and the noiseniks and far away from the picturesque lands of the boutique prog record labels, are a clutch of bands who are causing a highly enjoyable confusion amongst a growing number of people via a combination of odd rhythmic and tonal complexities, a taste for exotic textures, a yen for close-packed melodies and a knowledge of more than three chords. Worried by this, the Genre Police have attempted to flag them down, caution them and pigeonhole them in a little index, but when they attempt to slap labels onto them they find that the labels have a tendency to fit poorly and to lose their shape.

The milieu of these bands is the contemporary equivalent of the late ’60s seeding ground for progressive rock, and one of the best of them is The Monsoon Bassoon, which grew up like a little seed of bewildered hope out of the ashes of Plymouth death-metal band Die Laughing to mutate into this far more nutritious form (as heard on this tasty little four-tracker). Aside from the mathematical skill of some of the guitar playing, and an occasional tendency to knock you flat with a wallop of ferocious lawnmower riffing, there’s little of the directly metallic about the band now. There is, however, a good deal more of that underground breed of progressive guitar music that owes little to Supper’s Ready and more to the convoluted dystopian vistas of British and American art rock – strict minimalism packed with dense little tunes; peculiar Fred Frith froth; XTC edge; smidgins of concentrated Beefheart alternative folky weirdness; Mercury Rev’s fluting, blissfully twisted noodling-from-another-planet.

 
To these ears, though, the strongest influences are some of the most inspired moments of King Crimson – the ‘Discipline’ years in the tendency of Dan and Kavus’ guitars to jangle into gamelan patterns at the drop of a hat, and the sour-jazz mayhem of 21st Century Schizoid Man in Sarah’s wild-and-lofty Ian-McDonald-meets-John-Zorn woodwinds (no-one in this band seems to use surnames…)

 
Certainly Bullfight in a China Shop and Tokhmeh have that ‘Discipline’-ary Frame By Frame/Neal and Jack and Me chime to them. The former’s tight, cheerfully lopsided instrumental webwork comes over like Steve Reich through Guitar Craft, with a weird pop sugaring and a Brufordian snare twitch: there are verbally-coleslawed lyrics about dry-cleaning and shellfish, and a tootling flute to scatter bright sunshine everywhere. Tokhmeh is similar but sedater; Sarah’s flute pealing up and down a fistful of weird tuttis and fugues, a bit closer to the ‘I Advance Masked’ projects. More light-hearted than Crimsonics, maybe not as forceful either; but just as inventive, and with an inquisitiveness which we haven’t heard over this side of the fence for many years.

 
One gets the feeling that the Fripp himself would approve. For years he’s been caustic in his dismissal of the time-locked prog scene and its ever-hopeful copies of the monster ’70s acts. This band are much closer to being the heirs of his mind. Influenced by Crimson they may be, but they aren’t to be found in a drawer marked “Epitaph Retreads” or helping Peter Sinfield restore a Gothic tapestry. Despite their chirpier aspects, The Monsoon Bassoon have their feet planted firmly in the harder, scuzzier, post-punk ’90s underground, and play accordingly. The grinding, throbbing, bottom-heavy Digger starts out like a grunge version of Twist and Shout before the rasp of clarinet and increasingly eccentric guitar turn it into a rolling, roiling hybrid of ‘Red’ and early Cardiacs. Café Bazaar churns up the previous gamelan chameleonics with a nastier thrash-monster edge held over from Die Laughing days but leavened by a mutinous pop-urchin bounce and yammering text overload from their barking voices, spattering non-sequiturs all over the place.

 
One to add to Cardiacs, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Poisoned Electrick Head as current dispensers of refurbished progressive medicine. Get yourself a dose.

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘Redoubtable’
Org Records, ORGAN 013 (no barcode)
Cassette-only EP
Released:
1995
Get it from: (2020 update) Rare, and best obtained second-hand.
The Monsoon Bassoon online:
MySpace Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Spotify Amazon Music
 

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