Music Reviews

Nels Cline

Destroy All Nels Cline


Your enjoyment of this CD will depend on how much you like electric guitars. Lots of them.

Nels Cline has assembled a hefty band to play compositions that have been waiting for the right ensemble. Out of the six members, five of them play electric guitar at some point. Woodward Lee Aplanalp, Nels Cline, and G.E. Stinson wail away on guitar exclusively, while Carla Bozulich and Bob Mair double on keyboard and bass, respectively. The only one in the band who never picks up an axe is Alex Cline (brother of Nels), whose drumming accompanied Nels on “Interstellar Space Revisited,” a cover of the entirety of John Coltrane and Rashied Ali’s epic free-jazz classic. Harpist Zeena Parkins and clarinetist Wayne Peet also guest on a number of tracks; it’s hard to pick Parkins’ harp out of this mess of guitars (“mess” as in Mess Hall, not “mess” as in sloppy).

All of this guitar playing builds into a really substantial amount of notes. Cline’s charts involve a lot of different styles, he can go from prog-esque architecture to free-improv splatter in minutes, but overall, the density is more than I can stomach for 75+ minutes.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot of ground covered here. The band is very adept at keeping the structures of the songs coherent; no matter how wild and distorted the tunes get, there’s always a logic that motivates the maelstrom. Many of the players use some sort of extended technique; all of that brushing and scraping gives the songs a unique tonal tint.

The highlight of the CD is “As In Life,” a 15-minute suite that moves from ecstatic riffing to dark ambient textures, through elegiac melancholy and up until it rises to a crescendo underpinned by a riff that’ll melt your heart. “Friends of Snowman” is pretty with its sparkling chimes and it’s sitar-esque solo. “The Ringing Hand” is an appropriate counter; its ugly funk swagger neutralizes the ephemeral beauty of “Snowman.”

Destroy All Nels Cline is far too much for a single sitting. I’m not sure what it is about the music; I can handle one of Peter Brotzmann’s Octet efforts for an hour without problems. I suspect it’s the preponderance of mostly one tonal color, and the explorations therein. The record is a fine one, though, and will likely resonate with guitar heads of all swathes.

Atavistic, PO Box 578266 Chicago, IL 60657;

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