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Burnt Friedman and Jaki Liebezeit - Secret Rhythms

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Artist: Burnt Friedman and Jaki Liebezeit

Album: Secret Rhythms

Label: Nonplace

Review date: Jul. 2, 2002

Jaki Liebezeit played drums in the German rock band Can, whose music was loud, wild and unpredictable. It sounded like free jazz, but with complex, hypnotic rock beats and really good drugs.

Although this collaboration between Liebezeit and Burnt Friedman features Liebezeit's distinctive high-pitched snare drum sound, it sounds almost nothing like Can. Instead, it's chill-out instrumental post-rock in the same vein as Tortoise. Morton Grønvad slathers many of the tracks with lulling, John McEntire-like vibraharp lines; on the others, Friedman plays unobtrusive synth melodies. Josef Suchy adds wah-wah guitar sprinkles, while Friedman programs samples of August Engkilde's upright bass playing.

There are plenty of interesting details here, like the stuttering beat and propulsive steel-drum samples on "Gulli Verreisen" and the dubwise drum echoes on "Royal Roost." But if you're not paying attention, you're not very likely to notice them. Like Tortoise albums, Secret Rhythms sounds perfect. Every note is impeccably placed, and each song displays each band member's technical facility, taste and vast knowledge of music history. But despite its professional, eclectic feel, there's no sense of surprise here; the mood is so consistent that nothing could possibly force the listener to pay attention.

Admittedly, the fact that there are few surprises isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself. After all, I'm rarely surprised when I put on a Pelt album; I know to expect dense layers of fuzz and extended drones. I know Pelt's not going to, say, interrupt one of their drones with a happy hardcore break. But I still feel drained after listening to their records. Secret Rhythms doesn't offer the same sort of emotional impact, though, because the playing is so restrained and tasteful. The musicians don't seem to be showing too much of themselves.

To be fair, I'm not really sure Liebezeit and Friedman were aiming to make the listener feel any sort of emotion, except maybe contentment. Fine. If you're hosting a cocktail party at a modern art museum, this would be a perfect record to play as background music—and I say that without sarcasm, because this album is expertly executed. But close listening to Secret Rhythms doesn't reap rewards for me. I don't necessarily want Liebezeit to continue making music that sounds like Can; what's done is done, and we've already got plenty of great records to enjoy. But I do wish Secret Rhythms weren't so perfect-sounding, and I'd happily exchange a lot of the technical flawlessness here for some of Can's abandon and immediacy.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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