Album Review
7:00 am
Tue April 29, 2014

Comprador: Voyeur

This is a review for Voyeur, the 4-song EP by Cincinnati's Comprador. But first, a little historical perspective...

Sometimes, four is boring.

According to Jessica Lorey, music director for 90.9 WGUC, the idea of assigning non-traditional time signatures (something other than 4/4 or 3/4) to a piece of music is a relatively new idea. It wasn't until the early 20th century when composers like Béla Bartók started incorporating the unusual rhythms found in the folk music of Eastern European countries into his orchestral pieces. This schism with tradition was not often welcomed by the public. Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring caused a sensation and a near-riot when it first performed in Paris in May of 1913.

The time is out of joint - O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
Nay, come, let's go together.
- Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 186–190

In the late 1950's, jazz legends Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond started breaking the conventional mold of American popular music by writing pieces such as "Take Five," "Unsquare Dance," and "Blue Rondo a la Turk," with time signatures of 5/4, 7/4 and 9/8, respectively. These works turned the music world on its proverbial ear.

Coming out of the social and political turmoil of the 1960's, the post-Woodstock ideology of the 1970's gave rise to broader acceptance of music experimentation. 'Acid rock' and 'progressive-rock' became almost conventional genres, and bands like Steely Dan, The Grateful Dead, King Crimson, Yes and Rush openly explored and pushed the boundaries of rhythm. However, nobody pushed non-conformity in music further than Frank Zappa. Zappa's approach to music composition was uniquely intricate and tied to everything from art to science to popular culture. He could generate soundscapes with such fluid rhythm changes that the whole experience became organic and didactic.

Often heavily-influenced by Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and others of this era, the late 1980's gave rise to a new style of music generalized as Math-Rock. Math-rock bands are usually recognized by their application of unconventional time signatures and atonal dissonance designed to keep the listener off-kilter. Some notable math-rock bands include NoMeansNo, Big Black, Jawbox and Faraquet.

The mid-to-late 1990's saw math-rock bloom in Cincinnati with Godholly, a sonorous and discordant band heavy influenced by the D.C. music scene of the time as well as everything from Zappa to Pixies. Godholly's 1998 album, It's Lame-O-Matic, was the only official release by the band - but it helped launch the career of drummer Joe Suer who went on to play with bands such as Readymaid, Caterpillar Tracks, The Chocolate Horse and, most recently, Ohio Knife.

Comprador is now the heir apparent to the math-rock mantle in Cincinnati and they are proving, with the release of Voyeur, that they rightfully deserve it. They describe themselves and their music as 'Grungedelic' -- which may be my favorite word of the year. Comprador is yet another notable outgrowth from The Marburg Collective [ADM, Happy Maladies, Whitfield Crocker, etc.]. Comprador comes to us courtesy of the now-defunct Shadowraptr  - a very beloved band in the local music scene.

There are three essential components to a good math-rock band:

  1. Strong communication among the band members
  2. Lots and lots (and lots) of practice
  3. A singularly superlative drummer

Aaron Collins [Groove Milk] fits that third category with no question. He also serves the dual role in providing backing vocals - a difficult task for any drummer playing even conventional rhythms. When he is not driving Comprador, Collins doubles as a quite accomplished singer/songwriter in his own right and has just released a new solo album.

Rhythm alone would be colorless without melody and Neal Vaughn Humphrey provides plenty of color and style in his bass performance. There is a subtle but exquisite pairing of bass and drums throughout the EP [but especially in "(I Talk to the) Windtalkers"] that works magnificently.

The guitar work of Charles D'Ardenne on Voyeur is highly effects-driven.  While Humphrey and Collins lend structure to Comprador's music, it is D'Ardenne's frequent use of chorus, delay, phaser and pitch-shift that provide its depth and warmth.

The first track on Voyeur is "Deserve Better," a song in which Humphrey and Collins twist and intertwine vocals over a jazzy, rumba beat while D'Ardenne explores the outer reaches of guitar psychedelia. In a similar vain, I am particularly fond of D'Ardenne's guitar on "I Hate Everyting," mostly because of his interplay between clean chords and his use of squealing feedback as a musical element.

"Into the Woods" nearly shimmers with prog-rock mysticism in a multi-faceted sonic exploration that would make Robert Fripp proud.

At first listen - with Comprador's spectral vocal harmonies and disjointed cadences - Voyeur reminds me a lot of The Collapse by Smoke Signals... and I would crawl through broken glass to see a show that paired these two bands together. By contrast, Voyeur is less dyspeptic and apocalyptic than The Collapse but still full of heart-wringing emotion.

Time and again, with every note, every beat, and every phrase in Voyeur, the artists that make up Comprador prove that music and art are inextricably linked - and that creativity is an organic process unbound by conventional structure. By diverting, deconstructing and burning down the standard framework of music-making and of artistic exploration, Comprador have created something difficult to wrap up into words.  

Much like the fundamentals of quantum mechanics, the music of Comprador is dynamic and nearly impossible to explain but, on a crucial level, we connect with it - and, more importantly, it connects with us.

Other Music:

"Romanian Folk Dances" by Béla Bartók; Jénö Jandó, piano
"Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)" by Igor Stravinsky; BRT Philharmonic; Alexander Rahbari, conductor
"Unsquare Dance" by The Dave Bubeck Quartet from the album Time Further Out
"The Subcutaneous Peril" by Frank Zappa from the album Finer Moments
"Cygnus X-1 Book One - The Voyage" by Rush from the album A Farewell to Kings
"Um Die Ecke" by Faraquet from the album Anthology 1997-1998
"Land of Pleasant Living" by Godholly from the album It's Lame-O-Matic

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