Saturday, September 19, 2009

East Texas Avenues

Book of Sounds
Beauty Bar, 9/19

A lot of bands describe themselves as "folk" or "minimal" as a means of deflecting criticism for lack of imagination in their chord choices. And a lot of the two-man guitar-and-drummer groups that have become quite common in recent years use the lack of more than one chromatic instrument to mask the fact that they can't stay in time and haven't completed arranging their songs. Book of Sounds reclaim these descriptions in a meaningful way; they're folk in the sense that their music connects to a number of very old traditions (some of which, refreshingly, come all the way from the Old World) and minimal in the sense that every time drummer Marc Henry drops his hands slightly to rest his brushes on his ride cymbals, there's a purpose to it.

Mike Wood has an unusual style as an acoustic guitarist that you'd never guess stems from an apprenticeship as a metal player. Wood's enviable pinkie finger stretches way out to add sevenths and ninths over his solid rhythm playing and his equally limber pointer can dive down the opposite way for leading bass notes. Combined with Henry's marvelous pulse and polyrhythmic one- and two-handed snare fills, the band never seems to repeat itself even though their instrumentation is so spare. Wood's knack for making a quite modern lyrical style sound of a piece with songs that use swing and even flamenco time signatures sets Book of Sounds apart as well. His vocal melodies echo the imagination evident in his guitar playing, avoiding obvious intervals and often coming at a rapid, irregular pace that is beautifully complemented by his drummer.

The group's command of dynamics (and their ability to change rhythmic feel radically on a dime) is such that it makes sense that their compositions are lengthy, patient to develop, and as a rule never limited to a single tempo or mood. These slow-building epics do leave some room that some additional instrumental color could fill nicely, and Wood's more haunting moments cry out for a close vocal harmony here and there. The basic shape of these tunes (the bullfighting indie rocker "Optimistics" is a standout) is rock-solid, however, as is the musicianship of both parties. Keep it coming, boys.

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