Voltress’ debut, Antelopes, smacks of high pretention and an everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic. However, this Madison, Wis. ensemble makes its brand of postmodern pastiche work just fine, opting for an organic-sounding meld instead of a forced let’s-try-everything-and-see-what-sticks approach.
The group’s core comprises the adventurous septet of Eric Hartz (Moog, SK1, keybass, organ, vocals), Mark Sinnott (guitars, vocals, piano), Beau Sorenson (guitar), Jeff Muendel (organ), Brendan McCarty (Nord Lead), Matt Rogers (upright bass) and Fender VI (drums). They are joined by the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Roscoe Mitchell (tenor and bass saxophone), Ethnic Heritage Ensemble’s Corey Wilkes (trumpet), Parliament/Funkadelic’s Bernie Worrell (Mini Moog) and bassist Richard Davis. The album was conceived and written by Hartz and engineered by Sorenson, and the utilization of studio technology—sampling, panning, mixing—proves just as important as the instrumental execution.
The first track, “Guts and the Gazelle,” establishes a heavy organ groove reminiscent of early ’70s Funkadelic, though it’s Hartz or Muendel playing organ instead of Worrell, who, along with McCarty, offers plenty trippy synth action for maximum confusion. Layered atop the straight-ahead groove are random samples of telephone messages, granting the whole thing a creepy and voyeuristic vibe. After an intense, cinematic brass section is introduced, an anthemic chant appears: “Death is on my shoulder/death is by my side.” This trails off into a free-jazz breakdown, featuring some mournful playing by Davis, before the dirge-ish and ominous coda akin to Pink Floyd’s “Saucerful of Secrets.”
Thirsty Zebras and the Wildebeest, the album’s only other track, follows suit. Though it never reaches a full climax, Voltress explores fascinating, hallucinatory sonorities in the free, unpredictable middle section. Wilkes shines with an infectious melody and blaring solo.
Released on the new imprint Shortwave Records, Antelopes is available only on vinyl and digital download, though a CD copy does come with the vinyl.