|SCARCELIGHT RECORDINGS > releases > SLR15|
EBSK. Secret Highways / Wobbly 3"CDR
Embracing the no-age with some kind of future jazz, cycling across the lawns Arlington, Virginia - only to take a tunnel to the urban wastelands. The future is bright in the hands of this duo.
Clarinet, Casio sk1, Casio sk5, drum kit, and bass guitar.
01. Secret Highways
|: cover by EB
EBSK are an improvising duo from Washington DC, with a
new release, "Secret Highways/Wobbly" (Scarcelight
SLR15), a very goddam original take on contempo
basement prog (or some such thing). The
instrumentation is Casios, drums, bass guitar, and B
flat clarinet. If this suggests some kind of Milo Fine
or Flaherty/Colbourne action, the direction that they
head in is pretty original. Without the help of beats,
they manage to create a newish sounding electronic
environment, inside of which events happen which
eventually coalesce into something that walks, looks
and quacks a whole lot like rock. The crudity of the
electronics and the sparseness of certain elements
brings to mind such small units as Young Marble Giants
or even The Method Actors, but the sounds are of such
aesthetics placed inside a strange post-Rock In
Opposition Prog continuum, then manhandled by picnic
apes. Which is pretty cool, no matter how hard you
Byron Coley. The Wire, Issue #244 June 2004
A little wonderbox of musical gems. Eric Bruns and John Rickman take their restricted inventory of instruments and try to go as far as possible within a limited time range. The restrictions work well and result in two amazing structured pieces of improvisation. If that is a contradiction to you, then that is your problem. Maybe listening to this little record will help you out of your misery. In the meantime the duo will expand on their trip through styles and crossing notions, playfully but with a serious intention (that I haven’t figured out yet, but I can feel it is there).
If you want to know what the abbreviation EBSK stands for, you gotta figure that one out yourself, because I have more important things to do. Like rummaging through piles of music and music related items that grow around my stereo and on my desk and figuring out what to do with them. Listening to music takes a lot of time. Looking at a painting takes about a millisecond, and with books you can always pretend that you have read it, but music you have to listen to. Some music demands to be listened to, even if it takes me quite some time to get around to it. Now don’t call the whistles on me by shouting out that a) this record is only 15 minutes and b) it has been released towards the end of 2003, because that has got nothing to do with what is going down. Jeez, some times time takes time and it always takes things time to take themselves to me. That is the truth, Bruce. So there.
Eric Bruns and John Rickman make up the improvisation duo EBSK, one of the more original and unique set offs to do so, by using bass and clarinet (Bruns) and drums and Casio SK1s, SK5s (Rickman). Apart from their own self-releases as SK Disque demonstrations and being part of the “begin live transmission” solidarity compilation on Dischord Records (well, they are from Washington DC, go figure) this is their latest release. The instrumentation would hint at a certain direction, but that is very misleading. Within these two tracks Bruns and Rickman take the long and winding road without losing sense of where they are headed – right through all kinds of styles and genres. Yes, it is jazz in a way, but it is also krautrock and noise and some kind of digital terrorism as well as a nice ambient soundscape thing, but let’s take it one by one.
Both tracks start off with some sort of rhythm figure. “Secret Highways” has distorted noise-bass-line doing an industrial backbeat, that gets more and more distorted and subdued with time, slowly adding bass and more industrial noises. I am waiting for the screaming vocals to kick in, but no such thing happens. Instead an Eighties-synthie layer emerges from nowhere. This goes on for a minute more or so, until suddenly and without warning the whole thing breaks into a breakbeat with multiple percussions and lots of echo, only mounted to the first part by the bassline and by the recurring synth-layers. And suddenly there is even a straight drum rhythm. Wonder what’s really going on here? Well, as soon as Bruns and Rickman have turned the whole thing into a thick layer of guitar- and synthsounds that will remind you of whalesong before kicking into a deadly groove for some time, you’ll wonder no more. The track ends in white noise, perfect. I’ll spare you the details of “Wobbly” because I guess you get the picture and I don’t want to spoil the fun for you.
The Scarcelight imprint was initially launched in 2001
by Chris Jeely of Accelera Deck as a home for his own
releases, but that mandate has expanded in the last
year or so as Jeely has invited artists and friends
from around the world to release work on the label.
While the formats of these releases have varied from
ultra-limited CDRs in photocopied packaging to pressed
CDs in full-color sleeves, Jeely?s curation has given
the label a sense of continuity and consistency, even
despite the disparate styles that have been
represented in the catalog so far.
EBSK is the Washington DC area duo of Eric Bruns and John Rickman and this is their second release, and a
giant step ahead of their debut offering. Here they dish up 2 tracks of music made with bass guitar,
clarinet, old Casio sk-1 & sk-5 samplers, and drums. The sound brings to mind the 80s hometaper heydays, no
part due to the instrumentation and the lofi analog sound of the Casio samplers. The bass provides the
riffs, the Casios crank out the crunch and the melody, and the drums propel the tracks along resulting in
something akin to lofi krautrock. The tracks feature several transitions and never lose
focus, something which was a problem with the duo's first release. The sound has matured and gotten
edgier, which is a positive development.
In contrast to the ear-splitting experimentalism of other Scarcelight releases, this fifteen-minute 3-incher from Washington’s EBSK—the name derived from bassist Eric Bruns’ initials and the Casio sk1 and sk5 utilized by drummer John Rickman—showcases the label’s more accessible side. As the aggressive mix of charging bass and drum clatter in “Wobbly” illustrates, EBSK’s sound inhabits an inspired interzone where lo-fi electronica, kraut-, prog- and post-rock intersect. Opening with a grinding, snorting machine shuffle, “Secret Highways” is even better, its spiky bass lines propelling it into crunching Crimsonesque territory before a bright theme breaks through the smears and static to leaven the mood.
I think this is the first time I've ever heard EBSK, despite having seen the name around for awhile. The two tracks offered up herein were created using bass guitar, clarinet, Casio SK-1's and SK-5's, and drums, and the compositions definitely reflect that with structures that are loosely musical as well as tangibly experimental. "Secret Highways" opens and despite some elements that aren't my thing, I definitely like the fluid basslines and simplistic drumbeats, and some of the Casio stuff actually works well to add strange little melodies to the mix. The ending abstract passage where drums and bass drop out is excellent, too. "Wobbly" follows with programmed drums underneath more well defined bass runs, this time slightly more subdued and melodic, which creates a chilled out atmosphere that I enjoy (even though the aggression level does pick up on the bass attack at times). This a more moving piece for me, with lots of creative effects and sonic textures that work together despite their rather improvisational nature (of sorts). The CD-R is housed in a black and white and blue cover that looks pretty nice. It's minimal in both art and text content, but it definitely looks presentable. When all is said and done this is a strong release, but one that leaves me with the impression that there's untapped potential here. I'd like to hear more work from the duo before really making the call on that, though. At a mere 15 minutes this is a good introduction, but I think "Wobbly" is the clear winner amongst the two tunes.