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15 January 2016

Gastr Del Sol ‎- 'Crookt, Crackt, Or Fly' (Drag City)

'In the museum / they set up the drums all wrong / reversed hi-hat and snare' is a lyric that, when you read it here, doesn't sound so odd. But once David Grubbs delivers it with his famous diction, and perhaps in the context of the overall song ('Parenthetically', which is clearly a hissy, caught-on-dictaphone improvisation) and the overall album (the sublime, strange and still singular Crookt, Crackt or Fly), it feels fucking alien. There's a forgotten generation of people like me, mostly male I'm guessing, and white, and quite a few who wear spectacles, who felt the power of the guitar but didn't want to sound like Yngvie or Satriani in our teenage aspirations. Gastr del Sol, and in particular this LP, was like manna from heaven. I never really listened to the first Gastr album, because it didn't have Jim O'Rourke on it. But here on the sophomore record, the two are equals, dazzling in their guitar interplay but not afraid of incorporating some piano or electronics when necessary. The thirteen minutes of 'Work from Smoke' make up the Gastr piece de resistance, the masterpiece that takes you through everything they do in a short period of time: Grubbs's idiot-savant lyrics, edgy acoustic guitar slashes, and a new dawn of droning electronics that sounds like George Crumb having a go at remixing the Spirit of Eden master tapes after drinking a few sixpacks of malt liquor. If this was the only track they ever cut they'd still live in eternal greatness for me, but there's actually the rest of the album to enjoy (and a few other records, too).  Side two's monster is 'The Wrong Soundings', a combination of processed ambient/field recordings (sounding mostly like somebody fucking around in a cave or other resonant space) with some circular insanity-guitar; the first half doesn't grab you by the throat and throttle like the best parts of 'Work from Smoke' or 'Every Five Miles', but it's a key transition to Upgrade & Afterlife's more O'Rourke-dominanted moments - and then the RAWK comes crashing in, and we remember the roots of this band (or at least 2/3 of them). It's not the most cohesive track, feeling a bit like a collage of several different parts, but the sum isn't shabby. I think part of the reason this record feels so perfect is that is sticks to a fairly limited palette, being mostly acoustic, though John McEntire shows up to rock out on side 2 for a bit. Crookt, Crackt or Fly breathes a heavy gust of the avant-garde into an indie rock carcass (remember, Grubbs was the dude from Bastro!) and if there needs to be a photograph of something in the dictionary entry for 'post-rock', this is a pretty strong candidate. You can laugh at Grubbs's vocal delivery (and I often do - it's great to open your junk mail and sing it in his style), and maybe the strangeness feels affected to some, but I'm never one to mock ambition and this is bathed in it, and I think confidently achieves its goals. Maybe it's mostly forgotten by now, but the legions of crookt crackt guitar players in contemporary bands (Dirty Projectors come to mind) surely owe some debt to this. It's absolutely wonderful, and despite the very distinct tone here, I'm almost always in the mood for it.

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