Exposé print issues (1993-2011)
Human Ottoman — Farang
(Bandcamp no#, 2015, DL)
by Jon Davis, Published 2017-04-03
This Oregon trio first came to my attention when they landed on the bill of the Seaprog festival. Their instrumentation is as unusual as their name: cello with effects, drums, and vibraphone with effects. Yeah, neither bass nor guitar, though obviously the cello can handle the low end. Farang is their second release, and it presents their “polyrhythmic rock” in eight cuts of energetic music balancing complexity and mayhem. “The Infernal Mechanism of Commerce” features a beefy, distorted low end with a grinding riff, pounding drums, and chanted singing. “Falling” gives the vibes a more prominent role, with the cello functioning much like an upright bass, and a sweet vocal part — though there is a middle section where they amp up the energy. “Nth Degree” has a cello part that’s a bit like a warped, distorted folk fiddle tune, at least for some sections. And in case you hadn’t noticed a connection with math rock, there’s a track called “3(5)+4” — which concisely describes its metric pattern. Overall, while Human Ottoman is a rock group, the attitude is clearly jazz-inflected, with composed parts approached in a spirit of improvisation. I’m sure these tunes sound a bit different every time they’re performed. As to the three musicians… while the cello and vibes provide the harmonic interest, it is drummer Susan Lucia who ends up stealing the show. Her playing is busy but not show-offy, solid and inventive even in the less aggressive sections, where she hits the rims and sides of drums instead of the heads. She is clearly an equal partner in the enterprise, not just a timekeeper. Matthew Cartmill’s cello has a monster sound, filling the roles that both bass and guitar would handle in a more conventional band. Sometimes a pure, natural tone is used, either plucked as a bass, soaring upwards like a violin, or sawing away rhythmically. At other times the tone gets downright nasty, with massive amounts of fuzz. The vibes are played by Grayson Fiske, sometimes sounding like what you expect from the instrument, sometimes functioning very much like a Rhodes electric piano, especially when augmented by various effects devices. I’m pretty sure an octave doubler is used to allow the vibes to play bass notes at times, and there are also some weird swoops that could be produced by any number of devices, giving a synthesizer-like impression. The bottom line is that Human Ottoman is one of the most original bands going, and lovers of avant-rock owe it to themselves to check out Farang.
Related artist(s): Human Ottoman
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