You know that thing where Henry Cow gatecrash a Randy Newman song? No? Well it happens on the opening track to Putting Off Death, the 18th(!) album from redoubtable Chicagoan avant rockers CHEER-ACCIDENT, and their third for Cuneiform Records. They are a band who have skirted the edge of my musical minefield for a long time, but I’d never really taken any notice until now, and boy, what was I thinking? I should have invited them in for a cup of tax-free tea many turns of the moon ago.
That opening track is entitled Language Is and through the eleven and a half minutes of its length we are treated to ruminative piano ballad, spiky avant rock, massed horns, all underpinned by an unobvious time signature jostled about twixt piano and drum. The thing breaks down in a white boy funk strop that will invert your kneecaps and have you punching out the walls in angsty frustration, after being told “Don’t. Don’t wait up. Don’t waste your time.” Marvellous!
Yes, my coracle is made as buoyant as a pea in a pan of boiling water by this joyously adventurous album, that melds together disparate styles and takes chances, simply because it can. When the core of a band has been together for almost 30 years, as have Thymme Jones and Jeff Libersher, what comes out the other end of a recording console should be exactly what the creators wanted to do, regardless of fashion or commercial considerations. That is most definitely the case here, and as a result the somewhat dourly titled Putting Off Death is a musically fun ride, and this dozy phantom is certainly enjoying his time on the ghost train provoking the ghouls and timorous beasties that leap out of the speakers at the thoroughly entertained listener. The man with the scythe ain’t coming for us yet, “there’s still something to prove”, as Jones says in the PR blurb.
Comparisons are odious, but admittedly useful, and here you will find references to all the classic pop and avant rock bands aplenty. I won’t bother listing who I consider CHEER-ACCIDENT bear sonic familiarities to, as you can find that out for yourself by listening to the music writhing away under the various links in this missive. Suffice to say that a band that has been ploughing its own furrow for as long as this would have to be pretty unimaginative not to have developed their own sound, and CHEER-ACCIDENT do not disappoint in that respect.
Having come through adversity in their 30-year trip, not least the sudden death of guitarist Phil Bonnet from a brain aneurysm in 1999, the core duo arrive in the here and now a strong unit that has the intention of hanging around as long as it is feasible. “It’s a till I die kind of thing” said Libersher back in 1999 as a statement of future intent after tragedy. Here they are aided by an expanded cast who provide crafty and skilful backing to their wonky but perfect constructs.
The lyrics dance with semantics and metaphor in interesting combinations, and four of the songs were co-written with Scott Rutledge, who has been the group’s chief lyricist for over 25 years now. One of those songs is Immanence which contains the album title in its alluring prose, beckoning us outside to explore new frontiers, leaving decay behind. Jauntily bouncy and optimistic in the face of “rust and erosion”, and sung by Carmen Armillas in a defiantly matter-of-fact fashion, the abstractions of “A catalog of sounds, a prosphetic leg” and other offhand observations juxtapose neatly with the direct hit of the music.
Some of the most eerily psychedelic music appears on the following song Wishful Breathing, which has a Wyatt-esque surreality to it. This ticks more than a few of my irregularly shaped boxes, I can tell you.
The various reeds and brass instruments come together in the wonderfully musically melancholic Hymn, which closes the album. This tune also contains more of the clever wordplay, which as with most of Putting Off Death leaves an impressionistic air for one to ponder over.
distance not the same proximity
always something to be in pain for
not the wind, it’s the train horn.”
Repeated listens reveal different interpretations, and this is an album where the lyrics are an integral part of the whole and should be listened to properly. This is why they are reproduced in full in the CD booklet, after all.
Putting Off Death contains adventurous but accessible music made by a band that displays an easy confidence and a wilful stoicism to go its own way in the face of an increasingly inward and backward looking prog world. If, like me, you yearn for the genuinely progressive and the different this is most certainly for you.
01. Language Is (11:24)
02. Immanence (4:13)
03. Wishful Breathing (3:45)
04. Falling World (3:40)
05. More And Less (3:01)
06. Lifetime Guarantee (6:59)
07. Hymn (5:12)
Total Time – 38:18
Jeff Libersher – Guitar, Trumpet, Vocals, Keyboards
Dante Kester – Bass, Keyboards
Thymme Jones – Drums, Vocals, Piano, Trumpet, Keyboards, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Moog, Noise
Carmen Armillas – Vocals
Mike Hagedorn – Trombone
Teria Gartelos – Vocals
Sacha Mullin – Vocals
Cory Bengtsen – Baritone Sax
Beth Yates – Flute
Julie Pomerleau – Violin
Joan Morrone – French Horn
Ross Feller – Tenor Sax
Rob Plesher – Tuba
Todd Fackler – Tuba
Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalogue#: Cuneiform Rune 446
Date of Release: 12th May 2017