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Album Review: Glenn Kotche – Adventureland

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    Alongside his day job playing drums in Wilco, Glenn Kotche spends his time as a composer. Though not classically trained, he’s fascinated by exploring the “sound possibilities” of seemingly random objects to fully render his compositions. Among his vast array of makeshift tools, he’s used a re-appropriated fruit bowl attached to a contact mic, a “toiletry bag” full of portable instruments, as well as, of course, Delta faucets. This experimental approach has been a longstanding factor in his music, from the deconstruction of traditional rock drumming on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to the Steve Reich homages in his 2006 solo album, Mobile.

    A percussionist first and foremost, he continues to explore rhythm and space on Adventureland, his fourth solo album and first in nearly eight years. Adventureland consists of two main pieces: “Anomaly”, as well as the more experimental and adventurous “The Haunted Suite”. Where “Anomaly” exhibits lush, string-based performances from Kronos Quartet and Chicago’s eighth blackbird, “The Haunted Suite” is more jarring, full of sparse, texture-based movements. Performed by Lisa Kaplan, Doug Perkins, Matthew Duvall, and Yvonne Lam, the “Haunted” movements range from the lovely metallic waltz of “The Haunted Dance” to the genuinely spooky, noise-based “The Haunted Hive” and the clashing piano dirge “The Haunted Furnace”.

    “Anomaly”, meanwhile, is a seven-movement piece commissioned by contemporary classical veterans Kronos Quartet back in 2007. The inspiration for the work came from Kotche witnessing a Kronos Quartet show in 2006, as well as the death of his uncle, who passed away around the time of the project’s creation. Kotche wrote string quartet parts at his drum kit, thinking, “Four voice, four limbs!” The results span from the electronic, whirring glitches of “Anomaly Mvt. 1” to the euphoric spasms of orchestral beauty on the following movements.

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    The only outliers on the LP are two standalone tracks, the gamelan-heavy “The Traveling Turtle” and the ambitiously dense orchestral piece “Triple Fantasy”. Even then, “Triple Fantasy”, a spliced track, echoes some of the themes found in the “Anomaly” movements, specifically the bubbly, glitchy bleeps and bloops on “Anomaly Mvt. 1″, keeping the entire album grounded between its two main compositions.

    Like Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and The National’s Bryce Dessner, Kotche continues to establish himself as a fresh, progressive voice in contemporary classical music. His vision may not be as defined, but it sure has beautiful and engaging moments.

    Essential Tracks: “Anomaly Mvt. 2”, “The Haunted Viaduct”, and “Anomaly Mvt. 6”

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