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Maher Shalal Hash Baz - L’Autre Cap

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Artist: Maher Shalal Hash Baz

Album: L’Autre Cap

Label: K

Review date: Apr. 4, 2007

Tori Kudo’s Maher Shalal Hash Baz arrived at K recently after releasing several sprawling records on Geographic that were peppered with some of the best songs ever (ever!). He's developed an almost rigorous method for producing outsider-esque music: he writes songs, then has them played by big groups of semi-proficient people who have never seen the material before. The result sounds kind of like the Velvet Underground or, as Kudo describes in the liner notes to L’Autre Cap, “a kind of rock ‘n’ roll, or boogie, that features bassoon in place of bass.”

MHSB’s records, knowingly whacked-out and as obsessed with Christian ephemera as pop song structure, transcend outsider tropes (Kudo is purportedly a Jehovah’s Witness). The playing is deliberately wrong (as prescribed by the composer) while produced in earnest good faith by the musicians, and so its joy is doubled. We hear both the loveliness of loose, spontaneous playing and Kudo’s reveling in the way incidental mistakes and lack of tunefulness create a particular aesthetic.

L’Autre Cap (“The Other Course”), only 27 tracks long (Return Visit to Rock Mass had 83), is Maher Shalal Hash Baz’s most coherent record to date. A repeating bassoon theme that weaves through several tracks creates the overall structure, while different tunes comment on it through various styles. “Misaki” is a dirge, “The North Sea” mimics Pachelbel's Canon, and “Sheep are Seeing Me” is free jazz.

The record credits 19 musicians, and the songs grow better and better as more people join in. “Moving Without Ark,” at nine minutes (extremely long for the band), is thick with different instruments and levels of musicianship; the guitarist plays the straight man, the horn bellows randomly, and Kudo delivers vivid pastoral lyrics in broken English. And how many recordings make use of shofar?

L’Autre Cap rocks harder than its predecessors and seems newly consonant with K. Kudo combines Calvin Johnston’s screw-you-if- you-don’t-like-the-sound-of-my-voice missionary zeal with the obsessive/conservative devotion to pre-existing song forms of Little Wings and D+. But Maher Shalal Hash Baz evolved into this family from a divergent evolutionary tree, and the stylistic convergence helps make L’Autre Cap seem natural rather than contrived.

By Josie Clowney

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