Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nervous Cop - Nervous Cop (2003)

Review & upload originally posted on my blog.

Although this doesn't totally fit the free-jazz/improv label (it's pretty heavy on post-production editing and pretty light on actual group improv) it sounds like it should.
And there's a definite William Hooker/Han Bennink influence, so that counts for something.

Considering they have what may be the greatest band name in the history of music, it’s sort of a shame that Nervous Cop was nothing more than a one-off recording project. That fact seems even more unfortunate when you consider the participants: Hella drummer Zach Hill, Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier, Deerhoof electronics guru John Dieterich, and a pre-Milk-Eyed Joanna Newsom. And if a drums, drums, electronics, and harp quartet sounds like an odd proposition to you, then you’re absolutely right. This album is pretty much the definition of an “acquired taste.”

The first time I heard this album, I very quickly wrote it off as pretentious garbage: musical gibberish. It was only a few years later that I was lying in bed, suffering from insomnia, and decided to turn on my iPod and listen to something to maybe help lull me to sleep. Why I chose this particular album I have no idea, but it certainly didn’t do what I was hoping it would. Instead, in the pitch black of my room, my attention wholly focused on the sounds coming from my headphones, I became enthralled by what I heard.

Nervous Cop demands your full attention. Hill and Saunier don’t make things easy. Their drumming doesn’t follow any conventional rules of rhythm. Far more concerned with sheer energy than with keeping a beat, the percussion ebbs and flows in waves and gushes of clamor and din. Occasionally, crashes of cymbals become ambient background hiss. At other times the two drummers appear to be duking it out - launching volleys of percussive gunfire in each others direction. There are moments where it sounds as if they have a hundred drum kits at their disposal, and aren’t playing them but rather throwing them down endless flights of stairs as quickly as they can manage. Often the drum sounds are electronically processed and manipulated - strange effects are applied; panning and volume are played with; the attack and decay of the individual sounds themselves are clipped off or tinkered with. Dieterich’s subtle blipping, beeping, gurgling, and chirping electronics closely resemble his electronic contributions to Deerhoof tracks such as “Dog on the Sidewalk” (the last 30 seconds of that song, in fact, sound strikingly similar to several songs on this album). Newsom doesn’t come into the picture until track 6, “Frank vs. Frank,” which also happens to be the most structured (that’s speaking very very relatively) and most “successful” track on the album. Her playing style here is markedly different from what you might expect. It has far more of a classical and avant-garde influence than usual, with more of a focus on texture, and often wanders into grim and dissonant territory. Her trademark vocals are totally absent.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Nervous Cop was originally born as a very different beast. Mutual admirers of each others’ playing styles, Hill and Saunier had long planned to collaborate. This album began rather simply as the recorded documentation of a ferocious jam session between the two drummers. The recording was then chopped to shreds and pasted back together by Hill or Saunier or both.* Later, Hill asked his friend Joanna - then keyboardist for The Pleased and not yet famous - to contribute some harp. There were a couple more attempts at remixing before Saunier asked fellow Deerhoof-ian Dieterich to add electronics. A few digital re-workings later and what we’re left with is Nervous Cop. I don’t know if knowing that makes it more or less surprising, then, that many moments on the album manage to capture the same feeling of inspired spontaneous group interaction that only the best free improvisers can achieve.

Nervous Cop - Nervous Cop
1. Setting the Bushes on Fire (0:34)
2. Rice Precipitation (0:36)
3. Nonrum Nonproblem (1:06)
4. Get Wolf Boy and Get in Context (0:38)
5. Ill Pearls (4:31)
6. Frank vs. Frank (7:32)
7. Colorchains of Outer Space (3:36)
8. Nuflesh, Old Thirst (7:55)
9. Pow Strikes Pow Implosion (0:54)
10. The Hawk Feeds You to Feed Itself (5:12)


* information regarding the story behind this album is very difficult to come by, and if you have any links or articles or interviews or anything, please send them.

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