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coverpic flag US - New York - Full Moon 159 - 09/04/09

Sean Noonan's Brewed By Noon
Boxing Dreams
Songlines

I've been listening to this album on and off for months. Sometimes it's held me completely rapt; other times it's felt like the aural equivalent of steel wool. It's only after dozens of listens that I now feel like I can start writing about it. Why? Because it's one of the most unique albums I've heard in a long time, and certainly one of the most interesting I've heard so far this year.

When artists submit albums for review and say things like, "It's a combination of avant-rock, world music, folk and jazz," I immediately get suspicious; most disparate genre-mashing has horrible results. But in the case of American drummer/composer Sean Noonan's new album, such a description could hold up. This unique brew (pun intended) is quite unlike anything I've heard before.

A quick rundown of the personnel involved will give you some idea of the rich stew of sound: Noonan on drums, Marc Ribot and Aram Bajakian on electric guitar, Mat Maneri on viola, Jamaaladeen Taacuma on bass, Thierno Camara on bass and vocals, and Susan McKeown on vocals. Each of the players bob and weave around each other, sometimes moving elegantly in unison, then tangling in vicious clashes that sound like blood is being spilt. But all the while Noonan's coherent vision holds the album together brilliantly.

On songs such as 'Crazy Legs' and 'Big Mouth' there's a welcome lightness of touch and humour, which counterbalances the more knotty, fuzzy passages where the two guitars and viola really let rip. The cumulative effect of this ebb and flow between sweet melody and dissonance is disorientating and delicious, like a sweaty dash through city streets before pausing for a refreshing drink, or eleven rounds of the titular boxing dreams, with breaks after each round to receive a rubdown and pep talk.

My one criticism, which is especially apparent after repeat listens, is that this is an exhausting album. Many of the songs can become rather trying on the ears, stretching to around the ten-minute mark. Run a few of these suckers back to back and it can feel like you're being pummelled into submission. By the time track eight, 'Look', rolls around, the chaos really feels like too much. Thankfully, the gorgeous countrified 'Story of Jones' is up next to soothe the ears.

Then, Over-n-Out' would have made a welcome closer, but there's another five minutes of chewy, abstract riffing in the form of 'Lost in Gunter's Wald', which is a decent jam in its own right, but feels like the straw that broke the camel's back at the end of this long bout.

Overall, if you like your music challenging, complex and unique, this album comes highly recommended. File somewhere between the Magic Band and Fela Kuti, but don't expect this to be quite at home anywhere in your music collection.

Copyright © 2009 Tim Clarke e-mail address

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