Improvised and recorded in one day in a response to the visceral reaction they had witnessing the 2004 presidential election results, experimental jazz mainstay Nels Cline and Hella’s robo-drummer Zach Hill are an unlikely indie rock super group. With the help of Jonathan Hischke, Hella’s touring bassist, and Wilco’s sound engineer Matt Zivich on quality control, Distressed always maintains a loose air while it barrels through both the pleasant and skronky ends of the sonic spectrum.
Hill’s drumming is showcased nicely on the opener “Enduring Freedom.” Frantic and syncopated, he sounds like three percussionists playing simultaneously. Over top of this, Cline’s guitar either feeds the manic fire with some atonal fretwork or provides a chilly antithesis through low-key effects and droning notes. The group is skilled in the dynamics needed to build tension and in keeping the hubris to a minimum. “Deathwatch on the American Empire,” the disc’s longest track at 18 minutes, drops to a barely audible level about halfway through its duration. It’s not a momentary pull-back either, but one that assuredly changes the direction and texture of the song. The closer “Space Needle” does a good job evoking its name with the ambient sounds and electronic frequencies pulsing through the mounting chaos.
The phrase “Handling Frustration” appears in the gate-fold cover of the album. Cline and Hill as Damsel seem to be doing just that the best way they can, by providing a dizzying, tortuous and nervy album that speaks more to the emotional state of American life than reading off the standard punk screed.
Temporary Residence Ltd.: www.temporaryresidence.com