Throughout its brief career, Divide And Dissolve has been creating music in an attempt to break down barriers, walls that have been detrimental to the advancement of all people. It seems that’s Divide And Dissolve in a nutshell constantly fighting against the patriarchy and racism with an intense sound fitted somewhere in between jazz & noise, occasionally leaving no room for distinction. Now with saxophonist / guitarist Takiaya Reed leading the way, the band has released its new album Systemic (Invada) with is an extension of its last release, Gas Lit. Produced by Unmortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielsen, as was the last release, D&D’s sonic sculptures have seen a maturity from one release to the next. There are moments when tracks like “Indignation” move from obliterating everything in its path to gently careening through city streets, quietly and deliberately. A composition rounding out the noise. It’s quite brilliant. Systemic might be Divide And Dissolve’s most realized work to date.
TOFUSMELL – HUMOR
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but we sometimes wonder where the line is drawn. Throughout the 90s, artists popped out of the woodwork, from beneath every unturned stone mimicking genres and other artists themselves. That in of itself was parroting for financial gain. Through the debut EP Humor (Hardly Art), Tofusmell, the brainchild of Orlando-based Rae Chen, the comparisons will undoubtedly flood press outlets.
The first thing we need to do is address the proverbial elephant in the room and acknowledge any similarities he may have with 90s indie rock folk artists. While the musical resemblances are evident, with Humor, there’s something special. Whether or not Tofusmell utilizes influential artists as a template, that’s exactly what it is, just a plan laid out to assist in the creation of these 6 tracks. But we shouldn’t dwell on that, it’s the music and the earnest songwriting we should all be focusing on.
It starts with the opening “Basil Noodles,” which seems to border on disappointment, as Chen coyly sings over an acoustic guitar through hissing background noise but filling space with loads of backing harmonies. There’s a genuine warmth and the vocal polyphony shouldn’t be missed as it weaves around the song at delicate moments. But it’s “Slip Of The Tongue,” with its clever wordplay and the continued unease in Chen’s lyrics. Words are set against a bouncy rhythm as his raspy delivery, echoing harmonies and infectious melody are completely captivating.
It’s obvious through Tofusmell Chen is able to walk through more than one world, while completely holding onto his own identity. He slips back into sparseness on “Younger” with just his guitar and voice. While his voice may be layered, drifting from the foreground to the back, Chen whizzes around a vocal melody softly and with ease. One thing I keep moving back on is “I Can Keep Myself” where the repetition of his fingerpicking, in its simplicity, almost distracts from the percussion that makes its way through while it may be repetitive, it’s far from repetitious. There’s a subtlety that’s hypnotic in the sense that doesn’t let go.
With Humor, Tofusmell has surpassed all expectations and has left little to no question that Rae Chen, well, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
JD PINKUS & TALL TALL TREES – PONDER MACHINE
Ridiculous questions are often tossed around certain circles regarding art, music, and sometimes instrumentation. The banjo for instance, it’s one instrument that no one could ever see as something so sustainable to be able to stand on its own merit. Maybe some people have just made assumptions and want to leave it buried in the past deep within backwoods. But once someone brings up Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell and their Dueling Banjos, that’s where the arguments seem to end. But I digress.
Listening to JD Pinkus’ 2021 Fungus Shui is sometimes ideal listening out in this Arizona desert heat. Sure it’s sparse on instrumentation but the tones Pinkus hits fit just about any landscape as the sun drifts down over the horizon. But it’s only a precursor to what we’re dealing with right now, and that’s JD’s collaboration with Mike Savino’s Tall Tall Trees on the new Ponder Machine (Shimmy Disc/Joyful Noise Recordings) which takes banjo picking – and manipulation – in a bit of a different direction altogether.
There’s a lot of movement throughout Ponder Machine and it’s probably not all what you may expect from JD Pinkus & Tall Tall Trees, offer experimentation, beauteous collaborations, and all neatly wrapped in a psychedelia experience. Sometimes it’s even within the same song. The high-pitched whine of what sounds like violins, but I could be wrong considering Pinkus’ penchant for experimentation. It leads directly into Pinkus and Savino dueling things out, bending and blending notes together as fingers move gently across their combined banjo strings. An instrumental without the need of vocals but it would probably work either way. Through “Building Fires,” notes are sequestered in and out of distinctive repetitive patterns as their instruments build around spacey atmospheres. Both Pinkus and Savino are relentless. Through “High On The Mountain,” the duo creates a landscape of southern imagery through its music as the distortion builds around banjos which will have you questioning if those are actual banjos. Its lower register gives off a false sense of percussion and it works. At over six and a half minutes, the track is a temptress, like an opiate or narcotic leaving your mind boggled in the most amazing way. Pinkus and Savino are old souls and it shows on “Afterlifer” where the two wrap their words, circling thoughts around post-death and what’s to come next. Its bouncy carefree vibe is fulfilling, without fear of what comes next. Vocal harmonies are wondrous as those banjo notes hit at every turn. Sounds like Pinkus dusted off his bass for some low end in the distance. The country-esque direction both artists take is unmistakable and on “Cant C#,” the psych-rock feel is delivered in a much more eloquent manner, allowing instruments to drift around a melody. It’s easy to fall in love with it, offering the best of a few different worlds.
There are a number of tracks that push instruments to their brink, as the duo’s penchant for doing things differently take hold but it’s on “Fungal Mountain Breakdown” where worlds collide, encapsulating and intersecting everything the musicians are capable of doing into this one song, sans vocals.
JD Pinkus & Tall Tall Trees have created something special with Ponder Machine, and one thing this will do is leave you questioning a variety of things. I guess if that happens, then these two have done what it set out to do. They certainly leave you guessing, but it’s done in the most vivacious way. Is it easy to love? Fuck yes!