Having lent his deft horn licks to Merrill Garbus’ globalist quirk pop outfit tUnE-yArDs on their breakout album Whokill and blowing a mighty wind as one fourth of sax quartet Battle Trance, Matt Nelson now rides solo with four tracks of hoarse and noisy blowing on Lower Bottoms. Short(ish) but effective, Lower Bottoms trades melodicism and atonality in a groovy dialectic. It was recorded live, but Nelson’s on-the-fly manipulations and various extended techniques give the record a much wider sonic palette that you’d expect from a guy blowing a horn in a room.
Opener Sunk Coast showcases Nelson’s technique, its clicking and huffing multiphonics sounding at times like circular breathing, at others more like a series of short looped phrases which get more distorted as they’re repeated, gradually becoming subsumed in noisy gunk. Nelson’s sax on this record has a lovely guttural, brassy wail that really suits the distortion and noise in which it is soaked on this track, like certain combinations of meat and spices where the flavours just permeate through the whole hunk of protein as it’s cooked. And it makes the coda, where hints of melody return through the fuzz, all the tastier.
He takes a similar approach on Motor Mouth, laying down wheezy lines that still seem to wind and curl despite being caked in rust. Its intricate phrases are like something from an Egyptian or even Ethiopian dance band, despite Nelson’s almost crazed repetition, each cycle progressively embellished until each previously separately articulated motif melts into each other in a molten chain. Between these two pieces sits Sworn Enemies, more like a percussion piece than a sax track thanks to its initial sequence of sombre, echoing beats, presumably a result Nelson tapping the body of the horn, yet the simple addition of echo gives it a haunted, dubby quality. Mid way through, a series of fizzing and buzzing sounds are less drum communion, more a furious meltdown in the nerve centre.
Nelson wraps the whole thing up with the elongated braying of To Believe in What, its long, dissonant tones reminiscent of one side of a foghorn duet. There’s a visceral quality to this sound, a real sense of the exertion required to push these long notes out of the horn, with squealing overtones like steam escaping from a cracked seal of a high-pressure chamber. By the end, the thrashing motifs of squeals and roars resemble a particularly abstract form of rock histrionics, the agonies of the shredding solo frozen into a single moment and then extended into eternity.
Get Lower Bottoms as a download or limited edition vinyl release here.