Mushroom - Untitled, aka Leni Riefenstahl
(Aether Records 1999, AE LLP-007, LP-only)
From Aural Innovations #10 (June 2000)
Continuing their worldwide tour of record labels, Mushroom's sixth studio album has now appeared on the Aether label out of Indianapolis (run by the folks who perform as Many Bright Things) as a limited edition vinyl-only release. The album is a collection of four (more like five, really) very different instrumental works (you might call them 'post-rock'), totalling (well, pretty obvious really) about 40 minutes. Just like the old days! Again, some lineup shuffling of the ever-evolving group has led to different sounds and styles emerging.
The opening track, Leni Riefenstahl (named for a German actress/film maker), is a long, winding mesmerizing affair. Set to a relatively leisurely pace, the steady bassline and drumming are countered by streams of (what I imagine is) heavily-f/X'ed guitar, that comes across like a squadron of aircraft successively strafing your position. The tune reaches its full fruition at about the 8-minute mark when the power chords from Dan Olmstead's guitar stream through, followed then by bits of soloing against a peculiar curtain of rising and falling runs on both flute and synths. Eventually, the tune winds down and morphs directly into "A Violin Bow in Curved Air," initially an experimental piece of kling-klanginess mixed with Erik Pearson's screamin' violin. Somewhere in the middle of the piece, the unsettling sounds resolve into a more pleasant mix of atmospheric sounds... an effective device.
Side B opens with "A Tribute to Eddie Harris," a two-part journey that is more similar to the Mushroom of Analog Hi-Fi Surprise. "Swiss Movement" ebbs and flows over seven minutes, full of individual statements mainly from Olmstead's strangely-tuned and buzzing guitar and Pearson's sax. The combo soldiers on into a downright bluesy affair for the second phase, "Some Jive Ass Wasting My Time," a lazy stroll down to the Mississippi Delta for another five minutes of improvisation, before suddenly switching into a more uptempo jam with a rambling bassline and a swirly guitar 'whine' mixed with some inspired soloing. The LP wraps up with the more ambient "Dig My Mood," essentially a solo electric piano piece by Alison Faith Levy, full of soothing Cluster-like motifs echoed in just the right way to induce a reflective mood. Levy's stylish playing is a welcome new addition to the group.
Mushroom have yet to put out a sub-par work, and this one ranks right up there. The title track was taken from the Analog Hi-Fi recording session, but the bulk of the album is new material with a different intent. Some of the sounds and patterns in the improvisations are recognizable as distinctly 'Mushroom,' but the band always manages to present them in different guises with each successive album, such that they never produce redundant works. Given the limited nature of this release, I recommend promptly tracking it down.
Distributed by Aether Records.
You can email Mushroom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson