20 Dec 2018
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Album Review: Dave Black/Fiffdimension - Fame & Oblivion: 2005-2012

18 May 2018 // A review by Alex Moulton

Dave and his collaborators create a number of different outfits, depending on the members involved; Fiffdimension, Dave Black and Nat da Hatt, The Winter, Ascension Band, and dAdApApA have approximately 18 combined releases on their Bandcamp page, with content ranging from 1997 to the present day. Fame & Oblivion: 2005-2012 is the middle release of a trilogy of compilations, encapsulating their work throughout the aforementioned lifespan of the collaborations. The album covers releases from the 2006’s After Maths & Sciences and South Island Sessions, 2007’s First Time Around: East Asia, The Winter: 2011, 2012’s The Winter: Exit Points, andネオン列車の風景 Neon Train Landscapes.

The opening track of the compilation album, Ascension Band: The Riff, is a good choice as it serves as a good indicator of what to expect in the release. With indistinguishable lyrics lost in a haze of instruments, the recording has the distorted quality of a cell phone recording done in a garage. The song itself – as the title would imply – is essentially revolving around a single riff, repeating and accelerating for two and a half minutes, before ending with some eccentric string scratching.

While there are general themes present throughout the tracks of each album, there is no real consistency or evolution throughout the discography. The only aspect that remains consistent is the members’ use of unconventional instruments, or conventional instruments in unconventional ways. Morning in Gosford for example combines the shakuhachi – a Japanese end-blown flute – with chimes, samples and field recordings. It creates one of the highlights of the compilation album, in terms of melody and the image inducing nature of the track. Recording of birds and other animals along with wind-driven instruments creates an early-morning outdoor feel that is almost like somebody walking through their back garden and escaping the urban landscape into a forested seclusion. The bird recordings is an example of an element that re-occurs throughout the selected tracks from the South Island Sessions despite the vast difference in song styles.

Obscure, and generally instrumental, they experiment with amalgamating the physical and digital soundscapes preferring to use the more jarring ends of the spectrum of audio. Raw acoustic guitar, piercing harmonicas, effects-ridden vocals, static, banjos, tenor saxophones, shakers, gayageums, no-input mixing desks; a plethora of sounds is on display. While the avant-garde style doesn’t appeal to my own sensibilities, there are a select few tracks that have sections that I do enjoy. The Ballad of William Knife, for example, has a good structure to it due to the presence of a consistent drum pattern, no matter how unwieldy any of the other instrumentation attempts to be. Taking a lounge vibe, the track displays some lovely guitar riffs around the two-minute mark and persists in creating a reasonable mix of interesting trills and riffs.

Experimental and avant-garde will often prove to work against the direction of popular music, but it holds a vital function in creating something bold and new. Fame & Oblivion is a fitting title, with the opening track winning the Best Music Award at the Wellington Fringe Festival in 2005 and the latter tracks becoming increasingly sporadic and disjointed, involving more field recordings, oriental instruments, and cultural influences.

To create music for over 20 years is an impressive feat. To release content on a near annual basis, is even more impressive. Despite obvious differences in predilection, I can’t help but be impressed with their perseverance throughout the years, especially in a market as small as New Zealand. There is a clear passion, and a commitment to pushing the boundaries in an industry that is ever-increasingly becoming mediocre and stale, as record companies and radio stations continue to push safe, generic formulaic music. This will challenge your perceptions of what constitutes music and open the mind to new possibilities of sounds that surround us but have been previously discounted.


Review written by Alex Moulton

 

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