The Gang Font feat. Interloper (Thirsty Ear)

cd_gang-fontThis is heavily intricate, wildly experimental instrumental jazz that rocks with punk-like abandon.







When Hüsker Dü splintered apart in early 1988, the musical world was robbed of more than just the one-two punch of songwriting duo Bob Mould and Grant Hart. While never a main part of the band's songwriting process, Norton's nimble, solid bass work was the group's foundation, capable of fitting into every stylistic diversion Mould and Hart could dream up, from blistering hardcore to sunny pop to free jazz. After the band's demise, Mould and Hart went on to solo careers, but after a brief stint in the band the Grey Area, Norton left music entirely for the chef business, founding the award-winning Norton's Restaurant in rural Wisconsin with his wife Sarah.

The Gang Font feat. Interloper marks Norton's return from musical retirement, the first album of new material from the mustachioed bassist in 20 years. Coaxing Norton back to the thunderstaff was Bad Plus drummer Dave King, who approached Norton in hopes of joining a band he described as "a fusion of punk junk jazz avant garde industrial metal noise." To round out the lineup, King brought along progressive jazz keyboardist Craig Taborn and guitarist Erik Fratzke, King's cohort in the band Happy Apple.

gangfontThe resultant band, the clumsily named The Gang Font feat. Interloper, sounds about like you'd expect with such a pedigree. This is heavily intricate, wildly experimental instrumental jazz that rocks with punk-like abandon. The interplay between King and Norton is the solid framework the album is built on, but to call them the "rhythm section" is somewhat misleading: though King's blistering drums hold the beat, the melodies are just as likely to build off Norton's bass as they are off Fratzke's guitar or Taborn's keys.

The songs that rely  the heaviest on Fratzke's guitar ("Spencer's Background vs. Todd's Claim" and its much heavier partner "The Familiar Cadence of Banging") reveal the undercurrent of a heavy metal influence, at times approaching the sound of fellow instrumental rockers the Fucking Champs. On "A Chance to Play With Shadows," however, the band builds a tight groove around King's jazzy percussion, resulting in a song with definite swing.

The album loses some momentum toward its middle. "Herman Ze German Cassette" is a wildly improvisational piece that has its interesting moments but ultimately goes off the rails; the instruments sound like they're falling all over each other rather than playing together. Its follow-up, the 13-minute "Let's Go Find a Quiet Place to Cool Down," is an evocative low-tempo number that builds off a subtle, almost tribal drumbeat. The song succeeds in setting a somber mood, but takes so long to get where it's going that it lacks the more immediate, gut-punching qualities of the rest of the record. Fortunately, the next track, "The Litigious Mike Love," explodes the album back to life, and it remains electrified and engaging for the remainder of its runtime.

The Gang Font feat. Interloper is most definitely not for the casual music fan, but any fans who have sampled King's rock/jazz hybrid in the Bad Plus and found it compelling will find that this punkier, thrashier cousin will speak to them as well. B+ | Jason Green

RIYL: The Bad Plus, The Fucking Champs, The Flying Luttenbachers

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