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(41.49, Cuneiform Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Sun Dies 5.49 2. Mescalito 1:06 3. And Then You Realize You Haven't Left Yet 1.31 4. Blue Cheadle 5.47 5. Disenchantment 3.42 6. The Carnal, Garish City 4.17 7. According to the Spiral 2.48 8. Humanizing the Distance 6.54 9. Your Weak Heart 9.41 LINEUP: Jeff Libersher – guitar, bass; trumpet; vocals Thymme Jones – drums; synthesizer; vocals Alex Perkolup – bass With: Beth Yates – flute (1, 7, 9) Julie Pomerleau – violin (1, 4), viola (9) Carla Kihlstedt – vocals (1); violin (4) Dave Smith - baritone sax (6, 9) Lise Gilly – alto sax (3, 5) Doug Abran – tenor sax (8) Andrew Ciccone – clarinet (3) Rob Pleshar – tuba (8) Andrea Faught – cornet (8) Mike Hagedorn – trombone (8) Fred Lonberg-Holm – cello (6) Teria Gartelos Stamatis – vocals (1) Aleksandra Tomaszewska – vocals (5) Marketa Fajrajzlova – vocals (6) Laura Boton – vocals (8)
Prolusion. “Fear Draws Misfortune” is the tenth studio album by Chicago’s CHEER-ACCIDENT, one of the veteran bands of the US RIO/Avant scene. They were formed in 1981 by drummer and pianist Thymme Jones, and released their debut, “Sever Roots, Tree Dies” in 1988. On “Fear Draws Misfortune”, the core trio of the band is augmented by the contribution of a sizable number of guest musicians. Cheer-Accident will also appear in the movie “Romantic Warriors”, a documentary about modern progressive music, due out in the summer of 2010.
Analysis. Though I was not familiar with Cheer-Accident prior to reviewing “Fear Draws Misfortune”, I was extremely impressed with this effort, as well as with their overall approach to music. Though RIO/Avant prog is far too often seen as overly quirky, when not downright daunting or even displeasing to the ear, it is mostly an unfair myth. While it is true that bands like Cheer-Accident are not suited to being used as sonic wallpaper, their music is anything but uncontrolled chaos or wanton dissonance – it just takes more attention to appreciate it than your average Neo-Prog or Symphonic Metal band, to name just two genres that seem to enjoy quite a bit of popularity these days. Elitist? Maybe – but also thoroughly progressive, in the true sense of the word. Cheer-Accident, as long-standing a band as fellow Cuneiform acts Univers Zero or Miriodor (even if nowhere as well-known), seem to embody what, at the beginning of the movement, made progressive rock true to its name – fearlessly blending sharply contrasting styles, and using their impressive technical and compositional skills as the glue that bind everything together. As usual for the genre, their music is not for the faint-hearted, or for those who need melody and hooks in order to relate to the content of an album. It is, however, highly rewarding, and intellectually stimulating without being clinically perfect. For the recording of “Fear Draws Misfortune”, the band have put together a veritable orchestra, with distinguished guests such as Carla Kihlstedt (of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum fame, as well as a number of other avant-garde outfits), and fellow Chicagoan Fred Lonberg-Holm. Consequently, the sound is rich and powerful, reflecting the wealth of experience and inspiration of its actors. Like all the best RIO/Avant outfits, Cheer-Accident are boldly eclectic, yet avoid giving the impression of a mish-mash of influences thrown together without rhyme or reason. Catchy, melodic parts vie for attention with typically experimental, almost jarring sections, sustained in every case by flawless vocal and instrumental performances. At first Cheer-Accident’s music may come across as more anarchic than, for instance, that of the aforementioned Miriodor or Univers Zero, but repeated listens will reveal a tightly organized structure to the compositions, even those that sound more chaotic. “Fear Draws Misfortune” can boast of one of the best opening tracks I have heard in a while. Sun Dies is an utterly exhilarating, riveting effort, whose stunning vocal parts (courtesy of Carla Kihlstedt and Teria Gartelos Stamatis) possess a strong Magma flavour, though imbued with a stronger sense of cheeriness (reinforced by blaring horns) than the somewhat unsettlingly martial vocals of Christian Vander’s lot. The whole track revolves around the vocals, with the instrumental parts playing more of a supporting role. Magnificent is the word, and I would have gladly broken out the exclamation mark if all the album had been consistent with it. However, even if the overall level of quality remains consistently high, the following eight tracks lack the spark that makes Sun Dies so successful. Closing number Your Weak Heart comes very close – an intense, orchestral section with prominent strings and piano parts, with echoes of 20th-century academic music (a constant of the whole album), bookended by torch-song piano and vocals (this time by band mastermind Thymme Jones). Other highlights are the dynamic Blue Cheadle, where more Magma references go hand in hand with harsh guitar riffs and Latin rhythms, and the uber-Avant workout The Carnal, Garish City, a rich tapestry of grandiosely orchestral moments, Gentle Giant-like vocal harmonies and even Brazilian vibes – all rounded up by off-kilter horns and energetic percussion. Interestingly, I could catch echoes of Talking Heads’ powerful sense of rhythm in Humanizing the Distance, while the vocal harmonies reminded me of The Northettes (of Hatfield and the North fame). Though it falls somewhat short of masterpiece status, “Fear Draws Misfortune” is an extremely intriguing album by an amazing band, which deserves more exposure in spite of its many years of activity. Cheer-Accident are definitely a class act, even if their music is not as easily accessible as some listeners might wish.
Conclusion. “Fear Draws Misfortune” is a must for RIO /Avant-garde prog fans, as well as all those who enjoy challenging, well-crafted music - whatever the label. Those who, instead, have trouble in handling high doses of complexity might want to give this one a miss – which, in my humble opinion, would be their loss. Bold and never to be taken for granted, this is surely one of the standout releases of 2009. Top-2009
RB=Raffaella Berry: May 15, 2010
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