tags:Sacramento weirdos avant spazz-core progressive lounge space jams
by Jericho Cerrona
There are times where one has to step back and acknowledge that genre explanations can be a pesky nuisance. Sure, it's often a necessary crutch used by writers in order to showcase their artist name-dropping comparison abilities and (gulp) aptitude for simply tagging the word "post" onto the beginning of hyphenated illustrations. However, never before has the arbitrariness of genre tags been as evident as when reviewing something like Gold Man; an album which makes attempts at describing the sonic eccentricity on display without dropping "proto-punk/acid jazz/freak spazz art-rock" descriptors utterly irrelevant. Of course, even this writer can't help himself, and neither should adventurous listeners, as Gentleman Surfer's followup to 2013's bizarro masterpiece Blaks is a wonderfully knotty blast of seemingly improvisational madness.
Of course, even using the term improvisational is somewhat of a misnomer, as it's clear that the 13-tracks that make up Gold Man have been carefully calibrated, fine-tuned, and played with dexterous skill. Like Blaks, which reveled in wacky sing-along choruses and mind-bending time signatures, Gold Man goes full One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest crazy, but unlike the former album, it offers very little in the way of accessibility. The band; which is made up of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Jon Bafus, keyboardist Zack Bissell, guitarist Barry McDaniel and bassist Drew Walker, have always thrived on that murky line between accessibility and inscrutability, but here they've all but ditched the former in lieu of ripping into some truly demented, mostly instrumental racket that continuously upends expectations.
Seeing as how Blaks was one of the most consistently brilliant albums of the past few years very few people actually heard, Gold Man carries with it the weight of heightened expectations for whoever may still be listening. Rather than simply throw together a kind of B-side to Blaks, though, Gentleman Surfer go even further off the grid here; plunging into an abyss of complicated rhythms, syncopated grooves, and analog keyboard flourishes which often begin in one register only to veer widely off course. Abrasively switching gears can be frustrating for listeners desiring conventional hooks and straightforward melodies, but to those whose brains are attuned to the percussive nature of the mind-bending compositions (much of the album sounds like it was recorded around the drums), the results are absolutely thrilling.
If there's one constant here, it's that Gentleman Surfer are always finding strikingly creative ways to break apart traditional song structures. Opener "T the T" is a perfect distillation of their sound, with it's over the top carnivalesque vocals, start-stop tempos, and herky jerky time signatures. "Crewed Dunes" has infectiously quirky synth lines bobbing around cyclical baselines and interweaving guitar, and on "Official Mind", the unhinged vocals give way to an eventual metal-esque guitar breakdown. Generally speaking, there's really no way to tell where any given song on Gold Man will go and how many strange detours it will take to reach it's conclusion. This can make the experience frustrating; like on "Rust Man: Late Romantic Gold", which sounds like 5-minutes of warming up before a jam session and "A.B.F.O.P.", which meanders through several different modes that are all individually interesting, but don't quite add up to a satisfying whole. Still, it's these very elements; the constant need for experimentation, the almost ADHD-induced overload of shifting sounds and textures, the pull toward the avant-garde fringes of progressive rock, that makes the band's aesthetic so refreshing.
Gentleman Surfer are making the kind of music they love without contextualizing things into a larger context of what albums should sound like in 2015. In many ways, Gold Man is a very "uncool" record, which probably makes it one of the coolest records of the year. Whereas Blaks conjured aural visions of the math-punk tenacity of Cap N' Jazz and freakish extremity of Mr. Bungle, Gold Man often sounds like the less hip approximation of the prog-rock spectrum. A tune like "Mollusk Reading Room", for example, comes off like a cross between 80s era Dream Theater and the underrated SNES video game Plok; which, of course, means it absolutely rules. On the whole, Gold Man too, also rules. It's brazenly atypical, musically intricate, and wholly unlike anything else out there at the moment. If there's any justice in the underground music scene, Gentleman Surfer will be breakout phenomenons, spanning a throng of "proto-punk/acid jazz/freak spazz art-rock" wannabes which will eventually lead to the inevitable genre burnout. Oh well, there goes those pesky genre explanations again. No matter; Gentleman Surfer clearly don't need labels. Their music speaks for itself; in all of it's oddball, angular glory.