Shatner’s Bassoon – The Self-Titled Album Shansa Barsnaan

SB_RingMaster Review

We have all had a dream which is ripe with randomness so abstract that it somehow makes sense, and that is exactly what it is like listening to The Self-Titled Album Shansa Barsnaan, the new album from Shatner’s Bassoon. Not that our brain cells have yet managed to come to terms with any of its themes, if there are any, or the intent behind its psyche twisting bedlam of creativity, but without doubt we are having the richest fun and enjoyment trying.

Shatner’s Bassoon is a sextet from Leeds taking influences from the likes of Tim Berne, Mr. Bungle, John Zorn, Frank Zappa, and an expansive range of styles and flavours into their warped composing and sound. Equally individual experiences of its members carry a diverse range stemming from European folk, Hindustani music, Brazilian music, straight ahead and free jazz, reggae, metal, contemporary classical, musique concrete and most likely plenty more inspiring spices. 2013 saw the release of their debut album Aquatic Ape Privilege and last year the live EP, The Crowd Grows Mild. Now representing “the summation of the last three years of working since the addition of Joost Hendrickx on drums and electronics”, Shatner’s Bassoon release their second album of unhinged imagination, an encounter from Johhny Richards (Keyboards/Piano), Michael Bardon (Bass/Bongos/Botanical String Quartet), Andrew Lisle (Drums), Oliver Dover (Saxophones/Bass Clarinet), Craig Scott (Guitar), and Hendrickx which puzzles, bemuses, seriously confuses but most of just thrills.

cover_RingMaster Review     Bruce Lawn starts the album off and according to the press release sees “Seemingly disparate musical fragments converge into a unified theme as catchy and uncomfortable as gonorrhoea. It dissolves as quickly as it manifests into a visceral aural soup, crashing into an overtly sexual Transylvanian organ punch.” It opens with a handful of lusty seconds of anthemic sax bursts and handclaps before flinging a host of discord kissed sounds made up of melodic and sonic tweaks. Already thoughts are conjuring a picnic in a thirties freak show, an abundance of off-kilter beauty providing an embrace of joy with sorrowful undertones. As with every track, and no matter the hints given by the band musically and in word, each listen sends the imagination down a new avenue of lively and shadowed adventure, though ones maybe not quite as disturbed or avant-garde as the ideas in the minds bringing the piece to ears. Band and song continue to ‘meander’ and spin new detours, a few of them Essential Logic like, as it drifts into an increasingly sinister haunting; coming out the other side with aural face paint smudged and mental coherence askew.

Bruce Lawn II: Arms like a Mirage comes next; the song’s initial elegantly chilled breath a surreal reflection of its predecessor’s final dark throes whilst spinning slowly deeper into its own turbulent intrigue of sound and barely masked insanity. It all leads to a bordering on bestial climax which is almost 6:33 like in its concussive collision of jazz, rock, and whatever else lies within its tapestry of aggression.

Like that initial spattering of water as rain clouds open is how Fringe in my eyes, Thighs in disguise sheds its mosaic of incompatible yet united sound next, each note from the song sheet a jazz bred splatter marking its territory; yes warped sounds seem to breed warped ideas, in us anyway.

Percussion and rhythms provide a skittish but fluent dance to set Mushroom/Fancy a Waltz away; bulging blobs of sax and clarinet flirting with the spicy strings of the guitar soon after before things get a little psychotically hairy in something best described by the band itself as “a machine gun spluttered duet finally melting into a refreshingly resolute meditation.” To be honest whatever we write or they say is a scratch upon the strange and spellbinding tapestry at work throughout the album and its individual exploits of tangling sound and ingenuity.

Ten seconds of innocence coated sax gaiety is all Mitch Fargone’s walk to school offers before Advocates of Anti-Funk pulsates and shimmers in a kaleidoscope of melodic and brassy sunspots, all wanting to share their swinging hips before eventually colluding in a dark carnival-esque seducing. Rip Rig & Panic meets Mr Bungle might be a good way to describe it…actually not really as again Shatner’s Bassoon cast only their own uniqueness over ears.

The dark enchantment of Boat Comforts moves in like sea fog, creaking boards and melancholic siren sent calls mesmerising and tantalising the senses. Every passing second brings darker and stranger nautical essences, the piece toying with the imagination like a Jules Verne on LSD written adventure complete with a bare boned and crazed shanty. Cardiacs come to mind the more the song spills its insanity and rum brewed frenzy before Boat Comforts Part II: Goat Conference / The Real Shim Lady unveils its own sonic choral of loco spawned textures and cracked rhythmic incitement. Like the unbridled discordance of eighties band Stump infesting the psyche and the creative prowess of a composer to a silent movie, the track goes from low key musical disorder to sinew swung hysteria and back again into deep melancholy.

Next comes DMT AABA which is like a nursery room found in American Horror Story, it in turn followed by the even more thickly haunting of The Ballad of Long Egg, a track which for whatever reason sparked thoughts of films like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and The Tenant. Closing eyes whilst listening to the track ensures it is an atmospheric noir scare, its textual narrative high suggestion even if the results brewed mentally do or do not match the band’s intent.

Inspector Fargone is another passing swoosh of temptation, its twenty odd seconds like a spaced-out Jacques Tati moment whilst the brilliant Boghead (WaspSpeed) is a fevered uproar of energy through a palette of eccentric funky sounds and demented brass grimaces and eruptions, all coming together like a Dali sculpted painting by numbers, though of course there is no recognisable order or structure to the blaze of premeditated and free form ingenuity.

The album is brought to a close by an enveloping lure of sound which again can only be described as haunting. Will you be my Friend? draws in vocals for the first time, their harmonies as left field and fascinating as the sounds hugging their presence, and wonderfully as musically heretical as the gentle cacophony creating one enthralling and exhaustingly bewitching album.

When you listen to The Self-Titled Album Shansa Barsnaan you will have a totally different view and response to its songs, that is a given such its diversity and unfathomable genius but most will agree that for appetites of humour loaded music with an insanity as broad as the imagination and wealth of flavours in its creation, Shatner’s Bassoon have provided one feverish treat.

The Self-Titled Album Shansa Barsnaan is available via Wasp Millionaire Records from September 24th.

Pete Ringmaster 23/09/2015

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