By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Gastr Del Sol
WHEN AVANT-GARDE guitar star Jim O'Rourke hooked up with erstwhile punk rocker David Grubbs for Gastr Del Sol's second album, one of the '90s' most fruitful musical partnerships was born. The Chicago-based pair popped up together on albums by the legendary art-punk collective the Red Krayola and roots diva Edith Frost, and guided Gastr to unforeseen heights. On these works, Grubbs's minimalist lyrics and acoustic-guitar circumlocutions were aptly assisted by O'Rourke's tape cutups and white-noise squeals.
Camoufleur, completed just before O'Rourke ruptured their partnership, sings an intriguing swan song. In keeping with the group's vanguard spirit, the album retains the original ideas but chases them down previously unexplored alleyways. We consequently get the dueling guitars and sparse piano passages of old along with an expanded reliance on nonrock instruments and an unanticipated flirtation with upbeat tunes.
Although ostensibly more straightforward than previous Gastr ventures, the album is hardly a pop-rock party set. "Blues Subtitled No Sense of Wonder" finds Grubbs reciting baffling lines over eerie strings, piano, and trombone, all blanketed in a crackling drone straight from Camoufleur's 1996 predecessor, Upgrade & Afterlife. Later, the stark "A Puff of Dew" takes the same route, minus those pesky horns, strings, and piano.
But the record's brightest moments belong to its surprising forays into pop, or at least "pop" as Gastr Del Sol would have it. With aggressive electric chords, a throbbing organ, and steel drums, opener "The Seasons Reverse" points to the duo's bouncy Red Krayola contributions more than any previous Gastr work. Album closer "Bauchredner" begins with classical guitar pickin', then trots off into a music-for-the-masses sunset, as John McEntire's rapid-fire drums kick us through a ready-for-blaxploitation horn arrangement.
Best of all is "Black Horse," a Vietnamese folk song that Grubbs and O'Rourke had been playing in concert as an acoustic-guitar duel. On Camoufleur it reappears surrounded by sprightly strings, French horn, clarinet, and a dippy bass line. It's a peculiar song, reeking first of cheese (see its overeager arrangement) and later mothballs (and long, droning guitar conclusion). But the song eventually folds into an arty white-boy funk that serves as a tidy display case in which to place the memory of this little-known--and now defunct--musical partnership.