The Quietus | Reviews | Max Syedtollan & Plus-Minus Ensemble

Max Syedtollan, who previously recorded under the name Horse Whisperer, is not a man tied to any particular style. His work is gleefully unclassifiable, combining a dizzying array of influences and ideas in collages that float somewhere on the border between experimental and foreign music.

Four homework is published by the Greater Lanarkshire Auricular Research Council or GLARC, the home of Still House Plants. At first glance, GLARC may look like a retro-futuristic Ghost Box-style outfit, but they’re much more playful and self-deprecating. The title song is a spoken word piece narrated like a conversation in a pub, on a collage of twentieth century musical forms, from jazz-era marches to free post-punk. These are provided by a London / Brussels collective called Plus-Minus Ensemble. There are times that look like Sergeant Pepper, some like Cardiacs, and others that could be cut off from Ornette Coleman, all side by side.

The story could be a cut of a scenario abandoned by Patrick Keiller. It is a story involving a narrator sent to the United States and Scotland on elliptical missions by his “employer”. This was written around photographs acquired by pressing the Google “random article” button. There are native earthworks, turkeys, counterfeiters, inexplicable inscriptions, and a set of puzzles that cannot be solved. It has the unreality of a novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet, referenced in the accompanying material, whose Nouveau Roman style dispenses with linear storytelling, with characters at the mercy of forces beyond their control. The narrative is purposefully and hilariously non-musical, but also captivating, while the eclectic accompaniment is influenced by the experience of listening to torrents online of anything and everything at once. It is a novel and / or an entire film compressed into thirteen minutes.

Four homework contains two other tracks, in the same spirit of complete relaxation on what could be used to make music. “The Remainder of Tom McCarthy” is a summary of the novel of the same name, told in a conversational way by a friend of Max who sent him the recording. He uses it to drop the notes of a synth tuned using a half-comma midrange which, he says, is a system “with its origins in the Renaissance that never really did. his path “. Finally, “Grass Jelly No.3” is named, apparently, after Max’s favorite bubble tea served at a Chinese cafe in Glasgow. It is “a pallet cleaner” which, in the world of Syedtollan, means a piece for solo piano in the style of Paul Hindemith, naturally enough. It’s charming, with the atmosphere of a symphonic poem on a sunny day by the river.

Four homework is a totally unexpected listen, which bears little resemblance to anything an audience might reasonably expect to hear. It is an exciting prospect. It is extremely rare to come across a disc that disconcerts, confuses and delights in this way. As an expression of unhindered individual vision, this is a triumph, and it strongly suggests that the experimental music scene in Glasgow in general, and GLARC in particular, is a thriving creative force.


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