Third album from 75 Dollar Bill. Their sound is something like ambient blues? The guitar sound is there, but it's sparse and often left to ring out. Bluesy riffs are looped while percussion grooves along behind it. This all makes I Was Real surprisingly dancey and fun. An incredibly moving album that offers a moving alternative to what minimalism can be.
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75 Dollar Bill practice minimalism, but not as you might know it. On a purely textural level the music on their third album, ‘I Was Real’, brings to mind the desert blues that the likes of Tinariwen have made incredibly popular. Scratchy guitars play blues licks over and over again, over insistent percussion and the occasional drone.
But this is not mere repetition. Guitarist Che Chen is masterful at slowly embellishing those licks to ramp up the tension and keep us interested. This comes through best on the album’s centrepiece, the 17 minute title track. Chen plays a seven note melody that slowed down wouldn’t go out of place on an Earth record. He’s patient, and lets it ring out from beneath his fingers, while a drone played on amplified viola (no doubts Tony Conrad would approve) gets higher and higher. Chen matches the intensity by changing the notes, anticipating the beat, and generally showing how much room can be found in one short melody.
His partner, percussionist Rick Brown is also patient. His syncopated groves played on everything up to and including a wooden crate are rarely complicated. But they enable Chen (and the albums over guests) the flexibility to really play with his guitar. The drumming is almost hypnotic and combined with the drones and the repeating guitar, makes for an almost meditative experience.
I say almost because sometimes, these songs are actually better suited to dancing.
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