I’m late to this, as ever, but perhaps even later than usual for a tape that’s been reviewed effusively almost everywhere and has even made its way into The Quietus’ list of the top albums of 2015. So I guess I’ll add my positive squeaks to the chorus of approval that’s already in full effect. Cornered Yet Climbing is usually a duo consisting of Tombed Visions’ headman and Gnod sax botherer David McLean, and seasoned free-improv drummer and experimentalist Pascal Nichols. They’re joined on this release by Manchester-based sound artist Kelly Jayne Jones, who brings brilliantly terse and granular noises – plus occasional twisting, turning flute lines – to the duo’s exploratory blasts.
Fevered Realities is not to be taken lightly. Its soundworld is distinctive and many-hued. Think Machinefabrik in a room with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble covering 808 State’s Pacific State, produced by Manfred Eicher. Is that mind-bending enough for you? To parse out the trio’s distinctive sound a bit more, they mix blocks of abstract noise with free jazz abandon, leavening the mix with keening saxophone and flute lines, around which twirl the echoes of a hallucinatory tropicalia.
If that sounds like a dish suffering from a surfeit of ingredients, well, you’d be right to worry. But, overall, the crew keep things from getting too overstimulated with shrewd variation of these constituent parts across this tape’s four tracks. In Side A’s opener, Raw Healing, a tidal undertow of deep drones propels Nichols’ wild, percussive flurries as McLean’s sax licks whoop serenely above it all, before finally reaching a squawking crescendo. But that’s not the end, as Jones adds a rustling coda of scratches, patters and gurgles, all the more unsettling for being swathed in a deep echo. There’s a somewhat abrupt tonal shift into Two-Holed Experiment, which sandwiches machine-style white noise and electronic rumbles into crunchy striated layers, its dark pessimism a gloomy counterpart to the preceding tune’s serotonin-drenched soloing. The trio bring the jazz back for Birds of Paradise, with the eponymous avian chirruping providing a trippy backdrop for some spacey flute and drum grooves.
Over on Side B, Islands of Opium continues to go deep, with woozy, stretched synths, clonking toms and long, siren-like drones creating a suitably narco’d exotica. Think Herbie Mann’s Stone Flute as the soundtrack to Once Upon a Time in America’s poppy-fuelled visions. Jones’ flute is crucial here, as it is in the epic Saudade for Rain Tunnels, providing a breathy counterpoint to McLean’s full-throated sax bursts and Nichols’ grindcore avalanche of tribal bludgeon. The trio finally achieve some kind of release from their earthly woes at about 18 minutes, rushing into paradise and gradually vanishing from view while gauzy layers of synth wrap everything in a numinous ambient haze. Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. Shanti, shantih, shantih.