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Nels Cline Singers - 'Macroscope'

J.D. Swerzenski
Contributing Writer
j.d.swerzenski[at]trinity.edu

Guitarist Nels Cline has cut in the range of a dozen records across his three-decade career, with those releases and his frequent collaborative work placing him at an unlikely crossroads of bop, experimental, americana and punk. That crossover work with the likes of Mike Watt and Thurston Moore has probably gained him the most attention. Oh, and there's the fact that he's been in Wilco for the past decade or so, doing a monster job of adding edge to the band’s often dad-rocking catalog. Perhaps that's why it strikes me as strange that the Wikipedia page for his primary band The Nels Cline Singers--now a ten years and five albums deep--spans all of three lines long. The closest it gets to a band description? "Despite the name, there are no singers in the group." Hard hitting stuff.

There's something appropriate then about the opening to the Nels Cline Singers latest record Macroscope. That opener, the amenably titled "Companion Piece," starts unassuming enough: shuffling drums and cleanly picked, tuneful guitar. It's the kind of forgettable side-project stuff that probably deserves just a three line write-up.

Then about two-and-a-half minutes in, Cline puts the pedal down (distortion in this case), drummer Scott Amendola revs up and bassist Trevor Dunn locks into gear. The trio keeps rising, Amendola shifting into double time, and Cline responding in kind with the sort of glass-shattering solo he's been injecting into Wilco's best songs for years. The remaining nine tracks further showcase Cline's wide-ranging pedigree: the porch-picking bluesiness of the title track, the MSM&W-inspired acid-trip of "Climb Down" (befitting enough considering Cline & MMW's recent excursion together also out now) and jam-band vamping of "Respira."

The trio kick up enough dust on their own, but befitting its title, Macroscope aims to widen the lens further. Amendola, who on his own is like having three drummers in the band, gets further assistance from twin percussionists Cyro Baptista and Josh Jones, rendering tracks like "The Wedding Band" to M'Boom-level polyrhythmic proportions. Baptista will be joining the core trio on tour, so here's hoping they can match the percussive punch of the album (my money's on yes.)

Of course Macroscope is often pretty kooky stuff (see Zappa-ish noise-experiment “Hairy Mother”) the likes of which will never garner Cline the attention he's received from his stint with Wilco, on Wikipedia or otherwise. But that's all the better. Cline and his band of non-singer Singers are best when left to roam wild, and Macroscope represents perhaps their best indulgence yet.


June/July 2014: Tour with Julian Lage
June 23: Rochester, NY - The Little - Tickets
June 24: Toronto, ON - Horseshoe Tavern - Tickets
June 25: Ottawa, ON - NAC 4th Stage - Tickets
June 26: Vancouver, BC - Ironworks - Tickets
June 27: Victoria, BC - Habour Towers Hotel - Tickets
June 28: Saskatoon, SK - The Bassment - Tickets
July 1: Minneapolis, MN - Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant - Tickets