Describing the latest album from Richmond, Virginia’s Dumb Waiter might be a futile exercise, like trying to explain how Cthulhu looks like to a blind man. But I will try my best, since noise and experimental rock doesn’t really paint a vivid picture, and this album has that in spades. Layers of vivid imagery are stacked on top of each other. Quirky ideas that have no business coming together are not only used, but celebrated.
I’ve been trying to come up with genre names to fit this sound into a category, but to no avail. So far I have “Lovecraft Math Jazz”, “Hitchcock Ska” and “Abyssal Elevator Metal” and none of that really does it any justice. Despite all its strangeness, it’s surprisingly easy to listen to. Dumb Waiter dials back the weird on its song structures and production. Everything sounds crisp and I would daresay even catchy, even if you don’t understand half of what is going on.
To start with, “HMP” ramps up the dissonance to a Twilight Zone level. This buzzing discord is carried by a tight danceable groove. A bright saxophone then comes in and provides a modal line that tiptoes between major and minor. Tension and release occupy the same space, making the emotion difficult to pinpoint. Soon you’ll be bobbing your head with a questioning look on your face.
“GRSLN” coyly starts off as elevator music but quickly morphs into heavy rock. Except its instrument choices are completely off the wall, using a synthetic and airy buzz-saw as percussion. The saxophone enters with another surprise — they made it shred like it was a metal guitar. Perhaps Kenny G was doing it wrong all along.
Other notables are “FRZK”, a floaty reggae/jazz/rock jam that’s supported by an eerie synth pulse. It makes you think of stoned aliens navigating through space. “VXVPR” and “JRQT” mixes rock with big band jazz, something I never thought I wanted until now.
Tsk expertly plays with the familiar and the strange. It’s an album that challenges convention. When looking individually at each element, you can’t help but scratch your head at how Dumb Waiter made it all work. All I can say is that it’s an eye opener to what other directions music is capable of. They’re onto something here, and I hope this album creates a new movement in this genre (whatever it is) because I would gladly line up to hear more.
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