Vacuum Tree Head - Rhizomique

9 songs
18:29 minutes
***** *****
Pest Colors


All good things come to an end! Vacuum Tree Head were a Californian collective of musicians lead by Jason Berry and Michael De La Cuesta. Over the course of their thirty-year history, they released over a dozen records. Ten years ago, I had the pleasure to review two of their albums, where especially the short Thirteen! really pleased me a lot. Rhizomique is unfortunately their last recording, but rejoice!, because itís even more adventurous than that record. What they have in common is their short running time. Rhizomique contains eleven tracks and makes it hardly over eighteen minutes. So itís really a short album, but like in the past, Vacuum Tree Head manage to stuff all kinds of ideas into their songs so that the record actually doesnít need to be any longer.

It all starts with Hegemony Cricket, an eighty second short instrumental full of woodwinds (flute, clarinet, saxophone) plus of course guitar, drums etc. It feels like Frank Zappa jamming with a high school band, but in a really charming way. Bosses is at one minute even shorter, and features the sublime vocals of Amy X Neuburg, who could be the spiritual sister of Dagmar Krause (Henry Cow, Art Bears, News From Babel). Nubdug is a similar track, also with Neuburgís amazing voice, but comes with a Mr. Bungle vibe that makes this track extra-fun. The middle part of Rhizomique feels even jazzier. Marlon Brando has a sultry jazz bar atmosphere, and is more sedate in pace. Mystic Chord is an instrumental led by a wandering clarinet solo, with atonal or microtonal synths wheezing in the background. Itís this strangeness that elevates the band to highest art. Gnostic Charms is a short jazz instrumental, before the band shows on Meritaten that you can perform an entire Rock in Opposition song, with vocals and all, in just half a minute. EMS Deluxe on the other hand is at five minutes the longest track on the album, and frankly a good moment to get back your breath after all these intense miniatures. The songís length is explained by the three solos: alto saxophone, electric piano and lead guitar, giving this piece a vibe ŗ la King Crimson circa Lizard. The album ends with Bubbleclaw, Vacuum Tree Headís last sign of life, and that was it.

Planned as the soundtrack for an as yet unrealised science fiction animated film, I can guarantee that you can listen to these not even twenty minutes of music without the optical support. What a way to leave the stage! I am an avid fan of avant prog and Rock in Opposition, but too often these genres get lost in their braininess and lose the melodic side that makes it all so appealing. Vacuum Tree Head at their best sound like Henry Cow circa Living In The Heart Of The Beast, and I donít know if I can make a higher compliment.

The end of Vaccum Tree Head is at least not the end of Jason Berryís musical journey. He went on with some former co-musicians, but without Michael De La Cuesta, to found Nubdug Ensembe, looking for new music adventures. But more about that on that later...

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