Click here to [close]

Monday, June 21, 2021

DLW (Dell Lillinger Westergaard) - Beats (PLAIST, 2021) ****

By Martin Schray

After listening to DLW’s Beats again and again, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s actually a heavy metal album (okay, imagine Frank Zappa playing Mr. Bungle songs). Unplugged. Does that sound weird? A trio that consists of a vibraphonist (Christopher Dell), a double bassist (Jonas Westergaard) and a drummer (Christian Lillinger) that is usually linked to avant-garde/new classical music is said to play metal? However, if you put the electric guitars, the rather still ordinary melodic line and the enormous volume aside, there are astonishing parallels - even if the musicians might not agree. What’s immediately striking about Beats is DLW’s astonishing grace and dexterity with monotonous riffs and nervous, abstract grooves. Also, the individual pieces employ classic DLW philosophy: for example, cycling through the steps of a riff and webbing together the spaces between notes with rays of primness and super-dry minimalism. Dell’s vibraphone sounds like a sonic jack-o’-lantern, Westergaard’s pumps away grimly and Lillinger’s hectic activity threatens to pull the pieces apart.

Beats is the trio’s third installment. The recording offers a continuation of their research from Grammar I and Grammar II . Unlike its predecessors, however, Beats operates differently: “In Grammar I and II, large forms were created by processing minimal structures. On the other hand, the musical research in Beats cuts a large superstructure into minimal units, which are then processed through the procedures of iteration and reconfiguration,“ Christopher Dell explains. The result is that Beats swings less abstractly than the other albums. Therefore, it rather rocks. Still, the beat remains in the focus, which isn’t really surprising when three rhythm instruments are at work. In the process the three instruments merge into a monstrous, sprawling percussion generator. Although melodies often only appear in repetitive riffs (“Configuration II“ and “Configuration IX“), this music is by no means overly-intellectual. It breathes and refreshes. Discreetly placed tones form a web that might not invite humming along, but is not atonal either. Notes come hesitantly from the vibraphone, which in combination with Westergaard’s bass strokes form a steady lava flow that irresistibly pushes the music forward. The drums set splintered beats against it, several time signatures chasing each other like a drum’n’bass machine that's gone wild. What is more: Everything is of an enormous collective discipline. And yet there are shimmering moments when the pieces seem airy (“Configuration XII“). It’s not only mathematically interlaced sequences that build up tension, but also lovingly dabbed, tender sounds directly taken from a French Nouvelle Vague film from the 1960s.

The sound, which was consciously produced and designed, is very vivid, powerful, almost hyper-real. Besides the instruments, you can hear the musicians breathing, which brings the listener even closer to the action. Under these conditions, the pieces turn into acoustic conundrums. They call this “multi-perspectivity“ or “structured improvisation instead of free-jazz gadgetry“, as Christian Lillinger puts it.

At its best, Beats can be breathtaking by surprise, with stunning moments nested inside already unexpected settings. Great album, no doubt.

Beats is available on vinyl and as a CD. You can buy it from the label or from Christian Lillinger’s bandcamp site, where you can also listen to “Configuration II“: