Rubberneck List 11, June 2002

(...)Steamboat Switzerland are an altogether tighter outfit. On ac/dB (Hayden), the trio of Dominik Blum on Hammond, electronics and piano, Marino Pilakas on bass guitar and Lucas Niggli on drums alternate between freeform improvisations (the 'ac' of the title) and short, rigorous compositions written for the group by composer Sam Hayden ('dB'), edited together almost seamlessly to produce a constantly shifting perspective on the group sound. The improvisations are mostly sustained textural explorations, Blum working through long difference tones and filter sweeps in the higher reaches of the Hammond which Pilakas underpins with churning, rumbling bass, while Niggli adds skittering cymbal runs. The group can dwell happily in rich, sustained dronescapes for minutes at a time ('ac 4') or even strip the sound down to almost onkyo levels of electronic quietude ('ac 5'), without losing an ear for latent rhythmic possibilities, which the bass and drums slowly draw out with a post-rocker's sense of metrical tension. Hayden's compositions, by contrast, are lucidly mathematical and atonal, with a particularly good line in improbable time-signature changes which the trio somehow manage to imbue with a sense of propulsion and purpose. Hayden's not unwilling to explore the textural possibilities of the line-up (for example, the meaty interplay between piano left hand and bass in 'dB 3'), and any attempt to break out of the ghetto of academic composition has to be applauded, but I can't help thinking that a couple of the compositions are only saved from tricksy bloodlessness by Steamboat Switzerland's unblinkingly committed approach. Overall, though, the album's confident straddling of boundaries overcomes these doubts: it should appeal to aging metallers looking for intellectual stimulation as much as to enervated improv fans wanting to discover their masculine side.
© Rubberneck 2002
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