What can you expect from drummer Dan Weiss’ heavy-metal-inspired quintet Starebaby? An eviscerating, exploratory edge, yes; utter mayhem, no. Weiss brings the same exacting standards to Starebaby that were previously evident in his Indo-jazz hybridizations and sui generis large-ensemble projects.
The eight doom-laden tracks presented here are incredibly powerful, but they rarely come off as demonstrations of pure force for the sake of it. Weiss is too precise an architect and thinker to let might simply have its way. That’s obvious from the start, as Ben Monder’s quietly absorbing guitar ushers in “A Puncher’s Chance,” a mixture of the weighty and curious that plays to the pugilist’s mindset with its off-kilter attacks. “Depredation” likewise deserves its name, with queries and comebacks aplenty serving as prelude to a main event of Morse code-like ministrations and unfettered shredding.
Weiss, Monder, and company—bassist Trevor Dunn and pianists Matt Mitchell and Craig Taborn—work their way through the rest of the music with the same caustically creative spirit, but it manifests in different manners. “Annica” walks a clang-to-clangor path, with angular piano lines serving up uncertainty; “Badalamenti” proves both corrosive and surreal; “Cry Box” is guts, groove, fire and faith rolled into one; and “Veiled” shows the virtues of collusion between electronic music and experimental design.
The album’s two longest tracks—“The Memory of My Memory,” more than 10 minutes long, and “Episode 8,” clocking in at more than 14—require serious patience, as the former flirts with tedium in its development and the latter delivers severe sensory overload and disorientation. But that patience pays dividends, revealing the wonders of art on the brink.
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