Label founder Jeff Gauthier is gradually rereleasing the entire Cryptogramophone catalog via the Bandcamp platform. For more than 20 years, the company has been a home for left-of-center improvisational music, and the second album by the Nels Cline Singers is as perfect a place as any to get reacquainted.
The Giant Pin—which came out in 2004, the year the iconoclastic guitarist joined Wilco—ranks among Cline’s best. There are, of course, no singers in the Nels Cline Singers. It’s either a joke or a point about the instruments of Cline, bassist Devin Hoff, and drummer Scott Amendola being voices too. Dynamics and abrupt tonal shifts are all over this album, beginning with the openers: a lovely three-minute tribute to Jim Hall, “Blues, Too,” leading to the all-out-war rampage of “Fly Fly,” which culminates in a complete-bonkers shred-fest. The headbanger “He Still Carries a Torch for Her,” driven by Amendola’s pounding percussion, provides a canvas for Cline to toy with electronic effects that turn his guitar into a house of horrors; on its heels is a pastoral piece, “The Ballad of Devin Hoff.” Two songs exceeding 10 minutes each but structured simply—“Something About David H.” and “Bright Moon”—feel like novels-as-music, taking their time to reveal their plots, whereas two others, the one-minute “The Friar” and the nine-minute “Spell,” are freeform experiments. The Giant Pin is a 73-minute tour de force that reminds us of Cryptogramophone’s important role in improvised music—and why it’s still needed.