(Self-released, CD, digital download)
The Crack Up are a local supergroup of sorts, featuring drummer Peter Negroponte, bassist Robert Stahle, guitarist Matthew Jalbert, guitarist/bandleader Jon Tatelman and keyboardist Daniel Zane Maroti. Individually, they represent some of Burlington’s most highly regarded free-form jazz players. But The Crack Up are not a jazz group. Instead, they apply a free-form curiosity to folk and rock templates framed by indie-rock sensibilities. The result is a dynamic, challenging and ultimately thrilling exploration of the boundaries of noise and rock, expertly captured on their debut full-length, Get a Life. The album begins with “Spinning Tops, Losing Form.” As a front man, Tatelman resembles a young Eric Bachmann (Crooked Fingers, Archers of Loaf), delivering poetic barstool melancholia in a gruff drawl. Here he sings, “You broke my heart before we even met, / Stole my flame like a cigarette. / Out of control before we were born, / spinning tops losing form.” Behind him, the band plies alternately jagged and malleable lines as a chugging guitar battles and is eventually subsumed by an airy, nebulous organ. The arrangement is similarly combative and feels intentionally unsettled as a building torrent of sound swirls around bright guitar sustains and winds into a tight spiral. Glancing percussion spurs the gathering storm forward with increasingly breakneck intensity. Then, just at the apex of tension, the song shatters around Tatelman’s anguished howl and wobbles to an uncertain conclusion. Spinning tops, losing form.
The artful symmetry between lyric and music continues throughout. Tatelman is not an especially polished writer. But his scattered musings congeal and strengthen on top of his band’s dense soundscapes. On “Swells” he sings, “Well, it’s a thought you’re sticking to / It sticks like an ocean sticks to the sand.” Meanwhile, disjointed guitars ebb and flow behind him, lapping at the listener’s ears in lazy, Pavement-esque fashion.
On the peculiar “Lung Dreams,” Tatelman offers this oddity: “If I smoke an egg, could I hatch and pretend I was new?” The oddly tranquil waltz drifts drowsily along until a berserk guitar freak-out rudely jolts the listener from a somnolent haze. Nels Cline would approve.
Throughout Get a Life, The Crack Up seem perpetually on the verge of descending into total chaos. But even in their most strung-out moments, they never really do. That is, until the eight-minute epic “We All Sound the Same,” which closes the album in a screeching fit of bracing sound. It is sublimely disturbing, and a fitting end to a richly rewarding effort.
Get a Life by The Crack Up is available at thecrackup.bandcamp.com.