Nels Cline Singers: Initiate
A guitar hero razzles and dazzles
That Walt Whitman phrase is overused, perhaps, but there’s no simpler way to say it: Nels Cline contains multitudes. And that’s not just because his group is called The Nels Cline Singers, implying a roster more considerable than the actual trio. The Los Angeles underground guitar hero belatedly found his way into the rock ’n’ roll mainstream a few years ago when he joined up with Wilco. Yet that’s only one aspect of a kaleidoscopic creative personality, barely hinting at the pure, unfettered insanity that explodes across Initiate’s double-disc, two-hour-plus sprawl. The albums, divided into a studio session and a live date, focus a lot of energy on spuzz-funk freakouts that should arouse fans of early ‘70s Miles Davis (and Joe Zawinul, whose “Boogie Woogie Waltz” gets a 14-minute concert revival). Cline’s pyrotechnic dazzle, propelled by bassist Devon Hoff and drummer Scott Amendola, is the stuff that makes fretboard geeks lose their minds, but it’s invested with enough drama and variety to defy hermetic wankery.
Cline also loves sound for its own blip-tastic sake, so there’s some terrifically fun moments in tracks like “Red Line to Greenland” and “Thurston Country,” for instance, that indulge in sci-fi/musique concrete-style transient noise-burst tomfoolery. The latter piece evolves into a lyrical reverie before tilting full-blast into the Sonic Youth homage you were probably expecting. Elsewhere, Cline bows to guitar legend Jim Hall (the nimble, relatively subdued “Blues, Too”) and goes in for moody dreamscapes (“B86 [Inkblot Nebula]”)—somehow finding space to jam with Deerhoof. If a different guitarist put out such a sonic crazyquilt, they’d probably be accused of lacking focus or spreading themselves too thin. With Cline, it’s like an MRI scan of a startling and original imagination, too crammed with juicy ideas to repeat any of them too frequently.