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Mats Gustafsson and Sonic Youth: Hidros 3

It would be harsh of me to suggest that a cannonball to the gut would be more pleasurable than listening to the glutinous mess that is Hidros 3 for even one second longer than required to write this review, but harsh I will be. I admire Sonic Youth for expanding the possibilities of song-based rock ‘n’ roll, but since I don’t really like song-based rock ‘n’ roll, my praise might ring a bit hollow. As improvisers, they leave me cold. Contrabass saxophonist/conceptualist Mats Gustafsson enlisted the help of five guitarists-including SY members Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore-a pair of vocalists (one of them SY’s Kim Gordon), and a person playing an “audiobox.” The group improvised at length while Jim O’Rourke did a live mix. Waves of distorted guitars and the occasional ranting vocal dominate. This is noisy, anti-virtuosic energy/ambient music. The “best” moment comes about 25 minutes in, when Gustafsson goes nuts on contrabass sax. The sounds he gets out of the thing-while wildly unattractive-certainly defy description. I appreciate the inspiration behind the attempt to unleash one’s raging id upon the world, but this kind of thing is effective only when it puts forth a unique vision. This doesn’t. Speaking of which….

The Thing is Gustafsson on tenor and baritone saxes, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, and on Garage they play mostly a repertoire of punk-ish tunes by rock bands like the White Stripes (“Aluminum”) and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (“Art Star”). Over the very loud rhythm section Gustafsson blows tired Ayler-isms-lots of slap-tonguin’, reed bitin’ and fundamental over-blowin’. I like the way he splits his tone into its component parts on Norman Howard’s “Haunted,” but for the most part, Gustafsson is a 15th generation Xerox copy of Albert Ayler playing tunes by 15th generation Xerox copies of the Ramones. What horrors hath the Bad Plus wrought?

Originally Published