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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

People - 3x a Woman: The Misplaced Files (Telegraph Harp, 2014) ***½

"3xawoman" is the latest album by People, a group formed by guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Kevin Shea (of Mostly Other People Do the Killing).  Here, they are joined by bassist Kyle Forester and a brass section consisting of Peter Evans (trumpet), Sam Kulik (trombonist) and Dan Peck (tuba).

One would think that this group, given their pedigree, would be an exploration into jazz improvisation, but People is not about maintaining musical boundaries.  While the opening track, "Prolegomenon," essentially features only the brass players in an improvised chamber piece, the next track, "These Words Make Up the Lyrics of the Song," reveals a genre bending blend of alternative, punk, and free jazz, with Halvorson and Shea providing the hardcore elements offset by Evans, Kulik and Peck, who maintain a controlled and even temperament above the crushing din.  There is that dichotomy between the genres that inhabits the entire album, sometimes favoring jazz or improvisation, other times hardcore punk or math rock (pick your alternative subculture here). 

"What's So Woman About the Woman" is straight up punk, with Halvorson providing the low end rumble of the guitar and high end wailing vocals, with Shea just drilling his drum equipment to a pulp.  There's also a sense of humor throughout; a subversive send up of the alternative music from the past twenty five years.

The best track on the album, "The Lyrics Are Simultaneously About How The Song Starts and What the Lyrics are About," is a hilariously and fiendishly good showpiece for Halvorson and Shea, in a send up of the 60's classic "Madison Time," Shea literally lays out vocally the entire track, notifying time signature changes, structures, procedures, etc as if they were dance steps.  "Reinterpreting Confusing Lyrics To Popular Songs" is Shea wailing like Frank Black from the Pixies, incoherent, with acoustic guitar accompaniment.  The structure of the album also has a Minutemen "Double Nickels on the Dime" feel, with seven of the track at under 90 seconds, all of those concise sonic structures that rush into your listening experience and then abruptly leave. 

There are moments where the album settles a little too comfortably in the alternative music world -- "Interoperable Intertrigo" and "Piles for Miles" feel like they could have been pulled out from a Breeders album.  "3xawoman" is at its best as a subversive mashup, a sonic fun fest by seasoned musicians.