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Surviving Death/Alive Why?

by Bill Brovold and Larval
Cuneiform Records, Silver Spring, MD, 2007
2 Audio CDs, 53’33"; 59’47". $18.00
Cuneiform Rune 248/249

Distributor’s website: http://www.cuneiformrecords.com.

Reviewed by Stefaan Van Ryssen
Hogeschool Gent


The nine tracks of Surviving Death are not quite mirror images of the 10 tracks of Alive Why?, but the titles of the CD’s at least suggest some thematically affinity. Apart from their musical consanguinity, they don’t. The titles are no more than a pun on the recording circumstances. Alive Why? is taken from four live concerts from 1999-2002 and 2006, and its roommate has studio-recorded material. Together, the diptych illustrates the Brovold-Larval musical universe: so-called experimental rock where individual technicity is all but absent, where obstinate percussion doesn’t dominate, and where some room is left for intimate melodic passages. At times, one imagines to hear sixties or early seventies pop in a late nineties remake. Characteristic for this music is the uncomplicated harmonic progression, just a trifle more sophisticated than ordinary guitar rock: simple, on the verge of simplistic.

The central piece of Surviving Death has a sombre, apocalyptic atmosphere. A single guitar plays a scrawly and squiggly percutative solo line, changing places with drums and keyboards against a symphonic choir-like background at times reminiscent of the Carmina Burana. One expects to hear the Dies Irae theme to break through at any time, but of course it doesn’t. This is rock music after all. The ostinato of the squiggly distorted guitar alternatingly comes to the foreground or moves to the back. Quiet rags of melody, either by solo instruments or ensembles, surface but never seem to be able to chase the ominous guitar away. Slowly the instrumental texture gains some complexity as the whole line up moves toward a climactic forte. Quite predictably, the piece ends with the ‘heroically surviving’ solo guitar. The second CD, Alive Why?, offers no surprises. It is another illustration of the wall-of-sound kind of rock of the past 30 years.

Bill Brovold has been working with numerous artists, ranging from John Zorn to Tom Waits and Bjork. He founded Larval in 1995. The Detroit-based band’s line up has changed continuously over the years, Brovold’s need to realise his musical ‘ideas’ being the only constant.



Updated 1st September 2007

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