The Golden Measure – The Golden Measure – self

Guitarist Mike Sopko and drummer Simon Lott: expect the unexpected.

The Golden Measure – The Golden Measure [TrackList follows] self-released 888295375799, 57:58 [3/25/16] ***1/2:

(Mike Sopko – guitar; Simon Lott – drums & vocals)

Guitarist Mike Sopko and drummer Simon Lott supply expansive minimalism (and nothing straightforward or ordinary) on their instrumental duo project, the Golden Measure. The outing may be minimalist in regards to only having electric guitar and drums, but the music is involved, tricky and potent. The two friends’ hour-long, self-titled and self-released undertaking has them playing amid a myriad of styles, from spacious, ambient-flecked material (the Eno-esque “Visions Distorted”) through rock-tinged tunes (“Westside” and “Ebber”) to roaring, turbo-charged clamor (the punk/hardcore-enriched “Carol” and the aptly-named “Wake Up, Son,” which could take the place of an alarm clock).

Sopko has performed and recorded with Bill Laswell (as part of the trio Sopko, Laswell and Pridgen), former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt, drummer Tyshawn Sorey, keyboardist Jamie Saft (who is a member of the Spanish Donkey and Plymouth) and more. Lott was in guitarist Charlie Hunter’s trio and has worked with bassist Todd Sickafoose, plus others. Most of the 21 tracks (which range in length from over eight minutes to under a minute) were improvised in the studio. Some pre-session hooks fashioned by Sopko went into the final outcome, but the intent was to record hours of improvisation, edit them down to fit onto a single album, and at times change the order around to make a better stream of music. Also, everything is structured synchronously. Sopko states, “It’s really two tracks, one that’s about 40 minutes and another one that’s about 13-14 minutes. They flow into each other almost like a sequence of the day, or when you’re dreaming.” That dreamlike demeanor befits several tracks, such as the 8:25 “Visions Distorted,” where ghostly effects drift through the auditory landscape and Lott adds an enigmatic spoken-word interlude (Sopko explains, “That’s like a poem, something Simon improvised on the spot”). The 2:30 “Cloy” begins in an equally ethereal mannerism, but reverbed percussion and a huge-sounding bass drum quickly furnish a heavier tonality, which is echoed during the subsequent and brief number, “Dream Team.”

Noisier sections saturate some of the cuts, showcasing the twosome’s ability to pull no punches and create restless rock-based music. There’s the aforementioned “Carol” and “Wake Up, Son” as well as the closers, “Old Summer Time” and the short title track, which are loud and thumping bashers, where Sopko thrashes on guitar and Lott pummels on drums. The most extreme piece is the screamer, “Outgrabe,” which is reminiscent of noisemakers such as Merzbow or doom-metal bands, with Lott’s elevated and undecipherable yelling, Sopko’s grinding guitar and Lott’s walloping bass drum and toms. There is also unusual, post-production sonic mixing which contributes to the record’s atypical outlook. Mark Allen-Piccolo (his résumé includes the indie rock group tUnE-yArDs and jazz clarinetist Ben Goldberg) heightened the music via specific types of mixing, and he highlighted certain aspects of the guitar and percussion. This is evident during the introduction to the 7:32 “They Love Freedom,” where background hum becomes an element of the overall presentation and reverb supplements Lott’s brushes and sticks on his cymbals. A swashed delay effect is employed during “Visions Distorted,” which reinforces the shadowy subtlety of that piece. The one caveat for this project is the movement from tune to tune. Sometimes the passage is naturalistic and relatable; but other instances, the transit is abrupt and blunt, which can be disconcerting and discordant.

Listening to The Golden Measure, there’s no sure way to determine where Sopko and Lott may go from track to track. That’s what makes this CD such an interesting experience. The two artists have their own priority, and it has nothing to do with expectations. Their catchphrase might be, “expect the unexpected.”

TrackList: My Liege; Visions Distorted; Westside; Ebber; Outgrabe; 5am; 6am; They Love Freedom; Age Cannot; Cleveland; Southwest Story; Superintending; Carol; Cloy; Dream Team; Wake Up, Son; You Ruler; T’was Wonderful; Lay Down Never; Old Summer time; The Golden Measure.

—Doug Simpson

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