RANDOM TOUCH, from the States, is an experimental multi-media group with ten official releases to their credit to date. This overall review touches on each of their latest four albums, “Alchemy”, “A True Conductor Wears a Man”, “A Box & a Word” and “Duologue” – not randomly :-), but in accordance with their coming into the world. Related reviews can be read here, here and here.
Random Touch - 2007 - "Alchemy"
(68:29 CD + 143 min DVD, ‘Token Boy Records’)
1. Incompleteness Becomes Us 8:57
2. Cyborgs of Unlimited Dementia 5:38
3. The Alchemy of Turbulence 6:18
4. Stones Whisper in My Sleep 1:49
5. Beneath a Dreaming Moon 5:40
6. Abandon 3:08
7. Nocturnal Emissions 6:15
8. Crossing Expanses Darkly 4:37
9. Insectiva Hallucinogenica 3:33
10. As Above So Below 2:38
11. Alchemy 9:15
12. Moonrise with Plane 2:02
13. Bound for Escape 4:47
14. Intimate Friction 3:28
Christopher Brown – drums, percussion; vocals
James Day – synthesizers, piano
Scott Hamil – guitars, banjo
Matthew Ebbin – camera
Released in the spring of 2007, “Alchemy” includes a CD and a DVD, but I’ll begin with the music, of course. Singularities still abound, so some may find the outfit’s playing here to be traditionally semi-spontaneous in nature. In fact, however, on “Alchemy” they appear as a disciplined act in a way, hitting on a much less experimental approach than ever before. Rather than quasi-chaos, we get quasi-restraint: quite coherent and intelligible music with a lot more controlled than extemporaneous moves, and no overtly random ones. Half of the disc’s fourteen tracks, Incompleteness Becomes Us, The Alchemy of Turbulence, Beneath a Dreaming Moon, Abandon, Crossing Expanses Darkly, Moonrise With Plane and Intimate Friction, are made up predominantly of what can hardly be categorized otherwise than as conventionally cohesive sonic constructions. The basic themes are usually linear and only some of the soloing patterns (mainly those by percussion instruments) are dissonant, to put it in a generalized way. I’m pretty sure that the uninitiated may easily take all the cited pieces as E-Music creations, whilst in reality they have nothing to do with that style, as they are not of the textural nature, and there are not even so-called soundscapes, let alone sequenced ‘solos’, anywhere on the album. This music is never quiet or dreamy, but is purple and disturbing, decidedly not for the faint-hearted. The overall atmosphere is quite menacing, but is offset by kind of moonlit guitar solos. The only light entities here, they nonetheless seem to feel free and easy among those evoking ghosts, monsters, dragons, and so on, creating an amazing contrast which not everybody will catch quickly, especially on the first listening. A blend of dark symphonic Ambient and avant-tinged electric Rock, each of the pieces is picturesque and compelling, almost every moment being wealthy in mystery. The music reminds me slightly of a cross between Peter Hammill’s “Sonic” and some of Robert Fripp and Black Sabbath’s creations – those with guitars and keyboards as their basis, respectively, such as Stonehenge and Sphinx in the latter case. Putting the cart before the horse, I’d like to mention that with the exception of Cyborgs of Unlimited Dementia (to be viewed specifically), all the reference points in this review bear an extremely relative character, since Random Touch has always been living in their own musical world(s). Revealing much more conflicting themes, to say the least, Stones Whisper in My Sleep, Nocturnal Emissions, As Above So Below, the title piece and Bound for Escape all belong to avant-garde music or, to be more precise (okay, as I view it), to gothic avant-garde Rock, this time out even the guitar wearing predominantly dark-colored clothes, by your permission. The last of these is the only track featuring ‘vocals’ which, however, are exclamations in the end, just delivered in a more or less melodious way. This is the only moment in the entire recording that I dislike, though the composition itself is outstanding, as well as any other of these six and most of those described first alike. Of course, the aforementioned Cyborgs of Unlimited Dementia is the sole piece here that reveals some obvious outside factors. It begins and ends in a fairly groovy fashion, evoking Genesis’s “Abacab” and Hawkwind’s “Out & Intake”, respectively, whilst its piano-laden mid-section in the style of Avant-garde academic music is simply wonderful. In all, this is an excellent and quite intelligible recording, and while it’s not without an electronic sense in places, I would really beware of recommending it to fans of Tangerine Dream or any other E-Music artists either.
Random Touch - 2007 - "A True Conductor Wears a Man"
(54:25, ‘Token Boy Records’)
1. The Weight of Bodies Sliding 1:25
2. The Giant Took a Liking to Jack 4:34
3. A Slow March Becomes a Flight 3:20
4. Skipping 4:54
5. Something Worth Waiting For 2:28
6. Plainclothesman Tuesday 2:02
7. Shelter 5:49
8. A True Conductor Wears a Man 2:12
9. Getting Ready 2:43
10. Mixed Up With Who 4:25
11. Illumination of the Flesh 3:45
12. Naked Feet In the Dark 4:59
13. All the While 5:15
14. Exponentially 6:29
If Random Touch’s earlier creations are heavily psychedelic in nature, making me think of surrealism bordering on abstract art with a touch of pure delirium, then their previous effort, “Alchemy”, comes across as what is known in literature as a magical realism of the European, American and Mexican schools (Ernst T.A. Hoffmann, Gustav Meirink, Howard P. Lovecraft, Carlos Castaneda, as well as Edgar Allan Poe and Nikolai Gogol, both of whom I consider to be the genre’s godfathers). As for this recording, “A True Conductor Wears a Man”, it brings to mind already South American mago-realism (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar), which is quite sparing in providing reality with other-wordly and even, say, mere metaphysical entities. To put it in a more comprehensive or, rather, simplified way, the sense of mystery remains, but the darkness is out. With the exception of the first three compositions on the disc, The Weight of Bodies Sliding, A Slow March Becomes a Flight and The Giant Took a Liking to Jack, each of which, but especially the latter, can boast :-) with some both fairly eclectic and energetic motions evoking, lacking a better definition, electric avant-garde Rock, all the pieces here are of a less band-oriented approach. In the course of those eleven tracks the trio expressively connects composed themes with quasi-improvised soloing which lightly recall the seven tunes that form the prevailing style of “Alchemy” – yeah, those examined first in the review above. However, it’s hard not to notice that the more the recording unfolds the more the music becomes ambient and texturally transparent, often taking the shape of floating Space Fusion whose singularity and originality, though, makes me perceive it as something four-dimensional. One way or another, beginning with Shelter all the pieces remind me in some ways of an earthly starship slowly (carefully!) moving in the neighboring, yet still alternative universe, full of temporal and spatial paradoxes as well as other hidden traps. There are also a few ‘vocal’ tracks here, one of which, All the While, comes with almost true singing. As the curtain falls, I think it would be safe to mention that with this effort the band has finely made their work presentable as regarding a more or less wide audience, which, however, does not in the least mean that the music is instantly accessible. Recommended, also.
Random Touch - 2008 - "A Box & a Word"
(57:08, ‘Token Boy Records’)
1. Floating in a Spiral 3:26
2. Tripping So Fancy 3:01
3. On the Way 4:21
4. Dancing in Moonlight 4:07
5. Changeable Weather 2:15
6. Opera of Vaudeville 1:55
7. The Altar Boy & the Priest 4:49
8. Steady Flux 6:57
9. Resplendent 2:10
10. Climbing into Tower 5:51
11. Air Play 5:35
12. Oh How We Wonder Why 4:04
13. Nof on a Wednesday 2:41
14, Velvety Wet 1:42
15. Grass beneath Our Feel 3:49
16. Over & Under 2:22
Compared to Random Touch’s previous two outings, “A Box & a Word” is in many ways a horse of a different color, finding the band for the most part relying on their earlier creative approach. Only three of the sixteen tracks-vignettes here come across as being more or less tightly composed or, to be more accurate, arranged. Two of those, Floating in a Spiral and Dancing in Moonlight, bring to mind the idea of avant-tinged Ambient, as also does Steady Flux – during its first half which also stands out for some real singing accompanied by “ooh” synthesizer pads imitating female vocalizations, whilst its remainder fairly well suits my concept of full-blown avant-garde Rock. Although compiled of two different compositions, this is overall the most diverse and at the same time cohesive track here, my personal favorite. One more piece, Tripping So Fancy, has its moments of musical clarity, but too few to provide the entire thing with a sense of integrality. Of the other twelve tracks none sound like being incomplete, let alone fragmentary or random either, but nonetheless all of them are purely improvisational. On the Way, Changeable Weather, Opera of Vaudeville, The Altar Boy & the Priest, Resplendent and Climbing into Tower all seem to be generally done at a stretch, and it is only because the musicians feel each other already on their intuitive level (a great achievement in itself) that their personal rudimentary ideas, having merged together, form what comes across at least as relatively sensible arrangements. Since on the last six pieces (see track listing above on wish) the trio delves into the more atmospheric elements, those seem to be a bit more cohesive, and yet all can at best be defined as something halfway between avant-garde Space Rock and pure probe. In other words, there is no lack of, say, experimental singularities on each of those either, Velvety Wet, one of a few cuts with narration, having rather repelling lyrics. It should normally take a lot of time to compose music, so considering Random Touch’s current, almost nonstop, recording activity, their return to improvisation, if not to say their roots, comes as no surprise. However the practical songwriting skills they have developed when working on the two predecessors of “A Box & a Word” were not lost on them. While most of the tracks here seem to be made after the outfit’s old manner, none have an abstract feel to them. This recording arouses associations with over-eclecticism rather than with a well-ordered chaos and is at least attractive as against some of their earlier releases, particularly ”The You Tomorrow” which reminds me of Brownian motion. Besides, I have always been asserting that music must be either composed or improvised (though meaning jazz and rock improvisations), taking pokes at so-called “sound design” and “sculpture”. So despite the fact that “A Box & a Word”, with its mostly spur-of-the-moment approach, only partly meets the statement, I can’t rate the CD lower than I did.
Random Touch - 2008 - "Duologue"
(39:52, ‘Token Boy Records’)
1. Nestle 8:02
2. Some Where 6:10
3. Chit Chat 3:28
4. After 5:20
5. Rooted Tendril 1:52
6. Suitable Time 2:41
7. Swivelling Down 3:32
8. In Word in Tension 3:43
9. A Favorable Direction 5:02
Christopher Brown – drums; vocals
Scott Hamil – guitars
Random Touch’s tenth outing, “Duologue”, only features drummer Christopher Brown and guitarist Scott Hamil (gone is keyboardist James Day, of course): hence the title of the disc, hence also its sound which, while being new to the outfit, is flat like a two-dimensional space (sheet!), i.e. as it can only be when two musicians record directly, well, to the bearer of their parts with no overdubbing or finishing touches, ignoring the many studio values. Yes, a lot of jazz artists hate any other approach but the said one, and it is more than likely that Random Touch’s own previous releases have been recorded in the same mode, but never before was their sound as, eh, defenselessly naked as in this particular case. James so effectively handled his keyboards that even the absence of a bass player in the band did not affect me. As for the music, there is nothing on “Duologue” in the way of composition or arrangement, and what may at first seem to be semi-structured, such as the disc opener Nestle with its sort of groovy ambience or its follow-up Some Where with its kind of symphonic quality (it already becomes a tendency to put more cohesive-sounding pieces at the beginning of a recording) turns out to be an illusion in the final analysis. Nevertheless, the second track has something in common with the ELP version of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, though it’s only because Scott deploys a guitar synth in a way that his riffs and solos sound much like they are generated via the Moog synthesizer. The other, successive, seven tracks, while all having a certain rock feeling, leave no possibility for the listener to get inspired by them. Not bearing even a barely outlined thematic direction, each is an excessively loose interpretation of the improvisation at best. Clearly, this is an effort of very like-minded persons, but the result is not even mixed. What two can do at one sitting without any preparations is something the two have just dashed off. (It would’ve been too simple and not too accurate to say it’s a pure impromptu.)
Having their own label, Random Touch don’t pose themselves the question what’s in demand and what isn’t, though as it, hopefully, clear from these reviews, it’s within their powers to produce creations that should be of interest not only to the peyote eaters :-). The first two of the examined recordings can easily be recommended to progressive rock freaks and probably beyond as well. Curiously, this outfit’s outings aren’t homemade CD-R’s, all representing massive, factory-made, digipacks with high-quality audio and video discs, to put it vernacularly.