Album review: MR AVERELL – Gridlock

Gonzo Multi Media [Release date 06.05.13]

René van Commenée is Dutch visual sound artist. He trained as a graphical designer and is a self taught musician who studied Indian classical music as a tabla player. Never one to take the obvious road, he’s managed to make music for over 35 years during which time he met some of the amazing guests on this album.

The line-up includes Van der Graaf Generator members Judge Smith (of ‘Curly Ships’ fame) on euphonium, Dave Jackson on horns, Hugh Banton on organ, as well as Lene Lovitch on guest vocals, guitarist John Ellis (Peter Hammil) and David Bowie’s pianist Mike Garson.

One of his art projects involved taking his sound art into a forest, which he filled with speakers in an exercise of overlapping art and music. On ‘Gridlock’ he records under the moniker of Mr Averell to distinguish his song-based music from his audio visual work.

‘Gridlock’ works round a broad based concept of emotional gridlock and Mr Averell’s painstaking narratives and adventurous sounds do their bit to focus on a macro societal problem. This involves several brusque narratives sung over a wealth of adventurous music and left field arrangements.

A multitude of sounds (listen to the guitar and keyboard parts of ‘The Fear Of Dreaming’) and even the in between song gaps are an integral part of an interlocking audio landscape.

There are elements of prog rock, synth drones, theatrical rock, and an array of instruments ranging from an earthy pipe organ and accordion to horns and all manner of electronics.

The album opens with ‘Lock’, which is 41 seconds of foreboding electronics which acts a prequel for Mr Averell’s croaky dissatisfaction with things, voiced over Judge Smith’s euphonium

The accompanying notes stress the importance of playing the whole cd so that all will become clearer. The sequencing certainly helps – including three micro link pieces –  and the album is notably uplifted by Lene Lovitch’s quirky vocal on ‘Kiss The Girl’, the closest we get to real commercial potential.

The evocative lyrics are brought to life by Lovitch’s breathy vocal and a sophisticated dissonant jazz vamp, in a sort of fractured disco work out.  The sax, rumbling bass and guitar parts act as musical triggers and give the song extra momentum.

Mr Averell also duets with Lena on the marvellous title track over dislocated staccato rhythms, a big guitar break, and a notable Amon Duul influence.

On ‘Deliberately’ (which he calls his chocolate song), his vocal recalls the detailed, sonorous monologues of Ivor Cutler, played out over a synth drone and church organ, as Mike Garson adds a pastoral piano led end-piece. It’s a great example of the importance different sounds and their ability to transform a song.

Hugh Banton and Willem Tanke both contribute organ parts alongside the kind of vocal angst that recalls Alan Clayson on the hymnal ‘Boxes’, before the song lurches into a bombastic, nightmarish synth driven cacophony and a stop-start finish.

‘Sightseeings’ also seduces us with a delicate echo-tinged piano line, an apparent  paranoid narrator and more voices bathed in echo, over Mike Garson’s beautiful nuanced notes and David Jackson’s resonant sax.

‘Gridlock’ isn’t so much a linear musical journey as a dip into a world in which the imagery of sound is all encompassing and the concept of ‘Gridlock’ all pervasive.

This is an album that offers much more than merely different music from the norm. It is as challenging as it is frustrating at times, especially as Mr Averell makes no concession to his croaked vocals or indeed his impressionistic approach.

The end result is that this album does what it says in the tin. Played all the way through, the pieces start to organically gel, not so much like a libretto perhaps,  but more like a musical collage that evokes the emotional feeling of the album title. **** (4/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra


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