Tue August 26, 2014
clast, as in iconoclast, is the name of the new album from Cincinnati's umin, and the title could not be more appropriate.
The word 'clast' comes from the Greek klastos meaning broken -- and those familiar with umin's work will immediately recognize how poignant this title is. At first listen, the music feels hectic, agitated and, well, fragmented. This is because umin primarily composes his songs on the baritone ukulele. He then digitally samples, cuts, loops and stretches the pieces into a wild and immersive collage of sound. Even the song titles are often mere fragments of words.
I like to think of listening to umin's music as a bit like making an expedition to Mt. Everest. One does not simply stroll up the face of the mountain without first taking time to acclimate yourself to your environment. To do that would most likely kill you. Though listening to clast without any previous experience will most likely NOT prove fatal, it will deeply affect how you connect with - or fail to connect with - the music. umin is so profoundly off the beaten path that at first it can be a bit disconcerting and overwhelming. Like watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon without subtitles, if there is no frame of reference, you can appreciate the beauty of the visuals but you'll miss the story and thus, half of the experience.
There is a sublime combination of sound, timbre and rhythm going on throughout clast that first introduces itself to you in the opening track "carbon." Some of the phrases throughout the album are the sonic equivalent to a found-object sculpture. These are then interspersed with varied layerings of strings and sequenced tones that open the journey through the mindscape of umin.
"Serac," the third track on the album, has a decidedly Celtic feel to it and approaches rhythm and construct in an almost conventional way while "Mass" is ironically light in feeling and brings back the Japanese koto sound that delighted me so much on umin's last album, antiv.
Contrary to that, "Lithic" is a massive work, heavy in bass overtones and driving rhythms. It is decorated with flickering 8-bit tones but, at its heart, it is a behemoth that charges through you and does not ask permission.
I think, simply because of the way the sound is captured, "Eve" is my favorite track on clast. There is a noticeable cleanliness to the presentation of the strings and the bass manages to resonate with universal vibrations.
Where antiv was largely a work of collaboration with other local artists, in clast, umin truly does light out for the territory and carves his own path through unexplored musical terrain.
Also, much like antiv, the cover artwork by William Test is a brilliant compliment to the music of this album. The freeform and hand-drawn imagery is surreal, jangled, and simultaneously primitive and exquisite. What in some ways looks like it may be graffiti or an off-the-cuff sketch on a napkin is equally reminiscent of the work of Marc Chagall or Wassily Kandinsky.
clast is now umin's fourth full-length album. With such delightful studio work, as well as his highly-acclaimed live performances, I'm very glad that umin continues to add to the marvelous and varied fabric that makes up the quilt of local music.