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Grand Ulena - Neosho

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Artist: Grand Ulena

Album: Neosho

Label: Family Vineyard

Review date: Jan. 27, 2004

Don’t think of the Grand Ulena’s Neosho EP as a package of leftovers from their stunning debut Gateway to Dignity; this is not another case of stalling to avoid the almost inevitable sophomore slump. Neosho is a three-song showcase of what this experimental rock group does best: improvise. Recorded during the same sessions as Dignity, Neosho shyly bares the delicate side of Grand Ulena, reliving the same technical prowess and fanaticism of their previous work, but in a minimalist and purely improvised form.

The opening to “Flyer” is steady and even, as guitarist Chris Trull sits on a single chord and stretches it out into a distant corner. Traces of the variation that proved to be integral to Gateway to Dignity seem to be missing in action, and when they do arrive at around the three-minute mark, they are slow, almost calculated attempts at breaking up the wall of sludge guitar. The drums are the most animated instrument, but they center on the bass drum and toms, eventually blending in with the static and deep moaning of Darin Gray’s bass. Held beyond any anticipated threshold, the wall of sound grows bold, full of muscle, and begins to fill every cranny, like a steady syrup spill. The piece works as a droning meditation, and when it reaches its expiration at 11 minutes – inevitably returning to the original guitar riff – the Ulena’s complete their signature assault by way of a very different means.

The title track dives in where Gateway to Dignity left off, full of wild drums and pounding, percussive guitar and bass, albeit with slightly subtle changes in mood, dynamics, and direction. When they slow down, we temporarily return to the quiet mode of “Flyer,” a quietude which the band uses as a launching and landing pad over the song’s remainder.

“Leimp” is the most varied of the three cuts on the album. With gradual rises and falls in tempo and texture, the trio displays a keen knack for playing off one another and taking cues on when to enter and leave – the blueprint to successful improv. Another minimal mid-section – in which the electric bass and guitar squirrel around in little light trails – is followed by abrupt explosions from Danny McClain’s drum kit, carrying us to the song’s conclusion.

The thematic glue holding Neosho’s pieces together is the propensity for quiet agitation, a great complement to its precursor full-length. Grand Ulena make some of the most accessible avant-rock you’ll find, and deserves further respect for the brilliance of their spontaneous conception.

By Joel Calahan

Other Reviews of Grand Ulena

Gateway To Dignity

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