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Monday, July 17, 2023

Astroturf Noise – Blazing/Freezing (577 Records, 2023)

By Matty Bannond

Very few bands are attacking the free-improvised-avant-bluegrass-electronics niche right now. Astroturf Noise are taking their second jab at it, following their self-titled 2020 album . Blazing/Freezing mingles American roots music with punky jazz, EDM and noise. It’s brave. It’s free. And it’s rolling towards a new frontier.

The project features Sam Day Harmet (mandolin/effects), Sana Nagano (violin/effects) and Zach Swanson (upright bass). Three guests mosey on down to join them in the studio: Susan Alcorn (pedal steel), Stash Wyslouch (guitar) and Walter Thompson (piano). Against a backdrop of climate change, political chaos and transformative tech, they aim to make sense of an anxious and strange America.

'Tennessee Blazes' gets this surreal pickup truck’s engine revving. Samples give way to a dancey electronic beat. The mandolin plucks a downward-spiraling pattern. Squeaking fingers scratch up and down violin strings. The simple rhythm collapses and a spacey passage of noise opens up. The listener wonders what might be lurking behind the next station post. A truly hectic start.

Alcorn’s first appearance comes on the second track, 'Brack Water Waltz.' It’s an off-kilter piece in 3/4, mandolin limping as if concealing a heavy blunt object and violin skittering around nervously. A pedal steel solo croons and swoons over zinging background effects. The band conjures the disconcerting, stomach-twinging sensation viewers feel when a child appears on screen in a horror movie.

'Dying Mechanical Banjo Pt. 1 and Pt. 2,' respectively, take the listener furthest away from the bluegrass homestead. Scrambling samples and electronic pulses meet metallic clanging. Nostalgia has crumbled. Heavy industry has arrived. It’s time for a new deal.

Blazing/Freezing paints familiar sonic patterns, then warps them under twisted lenses and spins them in a digital kaleidoscope. Beneath the tension, Astroturf Noise communicates a warm spirit of playfulness and a deep-down optimism about the possibilities of the future. It’s brave. It’s free. And it’s packed with a wagon-load of pioneer spirit, pardner.

The album is available on CD and as a digital download here .