Guapo – Obscure Knowledge [TrackList follows] – Cuneiform Rune 404, 42:56 [5/26/15] ****:
(Emmett Elvin – Fender Rhodes keyboard, Hammond B-3 organ, synth; James Sedwards – bass guitar; Kavus Torabi – guitar; David J. Smith – drum kit, percussion, keyboards and noises, co-producer; Michael J. York – woodwinds, additional engineer; Antti Uusimaki – additional keyboards, effects, engineer, mixer, co-producer)
The instrumental, experimental rock band Guapo is back with the group’s tenth release, and third on the forward-seeking Cuneiform label. Obscure Knowledge is a single 42-minute composition conveniently sliced into three sections to make it somewhat easier for fans to transition through the material. Guapo founder David J. Smith (drum kit, percussion, keyboards and noises)—the only member who performed on Guapo’s debut two decades ago—returns with the rest of his ensemble: bass guitarist James Sedwards, guitarist Kavus Torabi and keyboardist Emmett Elvin (Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, synth). Sedwards, Torabi and Elvin were also on Guapo’s previous outing, the 2013 CD/DVD project History of the Visitation. While that undertaking utilized European literature as a conceptual footing, Obscure Knowledge acquires some of its inspiration (and the album name) from a much different source. Smith explains, “The title of the piece of music and album is derived from the psychoactive rituals of various Native American people who are said to ‘tap into obscure knowledge’ when performing certain rituals and rites of passage.” This principle also permeates written works— such as The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell—by author Aldous Huxley, which in turn affected rock and psychedelic rock musicians during the 1960s. Obscure Knowledge has been issued as a compact disc, a limited-edition 12” LP and as a high-end digital download. This review refers to the CD.
The three sections—“Obscure Knowledge I,” “Obscure Knowledge II” and “Obscure Knowledge III”—could provide a soundtrack for psychotropic drug use, due in part to the pulsating plasticity which pours through the music. The almost 26-minute opener, for example, takes listeners on an auditory excursion which includes but is not limited to loud indie-rock noise (shades of the Swans or Sonic Youth), minimalism and droning passages (akin to Steve Reich’s compositions), avant rock, and about half way through, there are echoes of King Crimson’s prog-rock escalations. At several junctures, Elvin appends keyboard counterpoints, while Torabi and Sedwards supply low-end guitar and bass detonations. During the expansive length, there are varied chord alterations, repeated phrases and textural inflections, and a nearly-always heavy percussive determination. Mostly, though, Guapo stays devoted to a systematic frontward impulse which steadily mushrooms in tempo, strength and tonality.
There’s a discernment of something getting keenly adjusted during the approximately five-minute, “Obscure Knowledge II,” where the foursome temporarily edges away from the precipice. While this piece cannot be termed a respite (there is a fundamental sense of foreboding and an increasing node of noisy keyboards), the absence of drums and percussion means there is no outward thrust.
The arrangement of noise and swelling tumult rises again during the nearly 13-minute “Obscure Knowledge III.” Smith prods and pushes the band through a forcefully helical arrangement which once more brings to mind King Crimson as well as some of the Rock in Opposition artists such as SONAR or Miriodor, in particular because of the use of repetition and a cyclical motif or phrase. Overall, there is less of the underlying chaos found on “Obscure Knowledge I,” and the recurrent, main riff supports a groove which the group gravitates to and lifts to a sweltering conclusion. The final minutes offer uproar and a din best experienced with the speakers or headphones turned up to maximum.
TrackList: Obscure Knowledge I; Obscure Knowledge II; Obscure Knowledge III.
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