Upon first listen of Chromb!’s “1000”, I turned off my CD player. The overall quirk and molasses-thick avant-garde zaniness on display was just a bit too much for me. Although an ardent fan of the vast catalog of Patton projects, I usually find myself struggling to get into extremely challenging avant-garde works by the John Zorn’s of the world. Defeated for the time being, but intent to give the record another shot, I shelved the release for a few days and promised myself I would revisit it later. I hoped that my repeat listen would find me more receptive, and by and large my 2 a.m. excursion with “1000” seemed to make a lot more sense than it did initially.
Make no mistake: this is not a record for the musically faint of heart. The psychedelia-tinged, jazzy and often atonal passages will not inspire the casual listener to sing praises, but Chromb! doesn’t seem to be courting accessibility. Instead, the ensemble presents a collection of pieces that are at times brilliant, and at others frustrating. However, the music is always a challenge to the listener, occasionally teasing a conventional melody before ripping it away in the next breath. Sparse vocals add another color, from cartoonish spoken interludes to genuine singing. There is a lot going on here, and patience and an open mind is key to deriving enjoyment out of the record. Being short on either may result in a very short listening experience.
I have always viewed music created within the avant framework as a challenge for the listener’s consideration, with the emphasis being one of exploration and experimentation strictly for it’s own sake. In this way there is a certain fearlessness that comes with the territory, but it also makes reviewing this type of music very difficult: an subjective art is somehow made even more subjective than normal. With that said, I grappled with how to assign a score to this piece of work.
As an exploratory portrait of the strange and weird side of progressive music, the record succeeds more often than it fails. Of the record’s eight tracks, two never grabbed me in any meaningful way. “Bonjoure” starts out strong, but the main theme quickly becomes grating and repetitive, and feels a little overused by the end of the track’s short run-time. “Die Krabben leben noch” aims to create an unsettling atmosphere with ambient soundscapes swirling behind soft spoken narration, but the piece ended up dragging, and was really the only time during my listen that I was compelled to “check my watch”.
The rest of the tracks are nothing if not interesting, with “Favrice” being a real highlight, and showcasing some impressive bass and keyboard playing. The theme in this track is among-st the strongest on the disc. The almost Floyd-ian psychedelia of “ll en fallait” weaves great sax lines across staccato choral bursts and odd narration, all the while a Hammond thunders in the distance. While there are real moments of beauty, it also never shy’s away from ugliness which I think is a strength. Finally, the unison line that reoccurs throughout “La nuit des Madames” is hypnotic and frankly pretty stunning. It made me sit up and take notice, just because of how cool it is and how it dances rhythmically around the percussion. Really interesting stuff.
Certainly, Chromb! are trying to cross boundaries on “1000”, and it mostly works. I’m glad that I didn’t give up on the record after my first unsuccessful attempt to engage with it, as I did end up enjoying it quite a bit. It was only when I just went with the flow and listened on the record’s own terms that I “got” it, and I feel this will be key to the listener’s enjoyment. Very odd, very inaccessible, but ultimately very progressive. One to consider if feeling up for a dense but ultimately rewarding challenge, if one is willing to weather a bit of frustration in the process.
- Des Francis en quinconce
- Le tombeau est vide
- La nuit des madames
- Die Krabben leben noch
- Il en fallait