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Fred Frith - Speechless CD (album) cover

SPEECHLESS

Fred Frith

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Syzygy
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars 4.5 stars really. For his second solo album of the 1980s Fred Frith followed a similar format to Gravity, using different backing musicians for side a (Etron Fou) and b (Massacre). It's a very different album, however; the eccentric dance music of the previous album has given way to a darker, more obviously RIO style of composition and performance, with greater emphasis on studio work and use of taped sound sources.

The tracks recorded with Etron Fou on the first half of the album are perhaps the most fully realised of the four collaborations that make up Gravity and Speechless, and at times we are offered a glimpse of what Henry Cow could have sounded like had they continued into the 1980s. Ferdinand Richard and Guigou Chenevier are a muscular and versatile rhythm section whose playing often calls to mind the John French/Rockette Morton partnership in the Magic band, while Margot Mathieu and Jo Thirion provide highly responsive foils to Frith's guitar and violin work. The highlight of these tracks is the labyrinthine Laughing Matter/Esperanza, which is full of unexpected twists and turns and includes a highly effective guest appearance by a bagpiper.

The second half of the album features Massacre with some Frith solo pieces thrown in for good measure. The avant prog power trio are augmented with a horn section including the brilliant George Cartwright of Curlew, and these tracks also contain some superb lead guitar. Three of the tracks were based on concert recordings - on Saving Grace parts of Massacre's brilliant Legs surface briefly - but were given extensive post production treatment. The overall feel of the pieces is a little more abstract than other parts of Gravity and Speechless, and the arrangements have a more spacious, looser quality. The centrepiece is Balance, on which Frith plays all the instruments including some dub inflected bass (sounding rather like Bill Laswell) and which recalls some of Henry Cow's darker moments. The brief Conversations With White Arc could have been a Residents out take; Frith had collaborated with them at around this time and the album was originally released on the Resident's Ralph label.

Speechless is more overtly experimental and consequently less accessible than Gravity, but it's also a more coherent album. It dates from an extremely productive phase in Frith's career, and is the most essential of his early 80s solo works. Highly recommended.

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Posted Tuesday, January 09, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars First a big thankyou to Holy Moly (Steve) for suggesting I check this album out. This was Fred's second solo album after leaving HENRY COW and like the first one ("Gravity") he has a different lineup of musicians for each side of the original vinyl album. On "Gravity" he had SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA helping out on side one and THE MUFFINS helping out on side two plus other guests. Here it's ETRON FOU LELOUBLAN helping out on side one while on side two we get the band MASSACRE (Frith, Laswell and Maher) along with guests like SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA's Hans Bruniusson, George Cartwright, Tina Curran and more. I should mention that Fred would return the favour to ETRON FOU LELOUBLAN by producing their masterpiece of the following year "Les Poumons Gonfles" and also playing on it. He'd also help them out on their final release from 1985.

On side one we can hear samples of sounds that Fred used from street fairs from New York City along with sounds from street demonstrations. This can be heard right away on the short opener "Kick The Can Part 1" along with other sparse sounds. "Carnival On Wall Street" does sound like circus music somewhat as those tapes of street sounds again are used. This is cool. It's all so intricate and punchy and then it turns darker before 1 1/2 minutes which lasts about a minute before the previous soundscape returns. "Ahead In The Sand" opens with what sounds like deranged mellotron before percussion, horns, guitar, clapping and more comes and goes. Catchy stuff. "Laughing Matter / Esperanza" opens with street noise that builds then the music takes over. It turns more serious after a minute. Heavier too then back to the catchy intricate sound from earlier. These contrasts continue. Intense is the word after 2 minutes. Bagpipes are prominant in the latter part of this song. Street noise ends it. "Woman Speak To men ; Men Speak To Woman" is fairly strange with intricate sounds coming and going along with those taped samples. Avant is the word here. Spoken words in this one too. An insane but very good tune.

Side two begins with "A Spit In The Ocean" which opens with some very unusual sounds(haha). The rhythm section then kicks in. This is good. Horns join in and yes they too are left of center. Great track ! "Navajo" and "Speechless" were both based on live tracks performed by MASSACRE. I really like this track and it picks up late with horns. "Balance" has these prominant drums with intricate guitar then violin. Guitar is back replacing the violin 2 1/2 minutes in but not for long. "Saving Grace" has this tribal-like drumming as strange processed vocal expressions are added. Weird stuff man. "Speechless" has some deep bass and avant sounds. It sounds like woter after 2 minutes. "Conversations With White Arc" opens with a catchy rhythm as the guitar joins in. I like this ! "Domaine De Planousset" is laid back and pleasant (gasp !). "Kick The Can (Part 2)" sounding much like the opening track but better.

A solid 4 stars and certainly HENRY COW fans or for that matter ETRON FOU LELOUBLAN fans need to check this out. This is no doubt for the adventerous music listener.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#906572)
Posted Tuesday, February 05, 2013 | Review Permalink

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