On the surface, one might be easily fooled by the proletarian packaging, anonymous band moniker, and unassuming track names (everything’s “Untitled” and numbered). But the particulars of Box are much more distinctive, even brash when the music heats up. The lineup is guitarist Raoul Björkenheim (who made big splashes in Edward Vesala’s Sound and Fury and in his own Scorch Trio, here also heard on viola da gamba), bassist Trevor Dunn (Zorn, Bungle, Fantomas, you know the rest), Supersilent’s Ståle Storløkken (keyboards and electronics), and Morgan Ågren (drums).
They’re heavy hitters, cramming together a bevy of influences – ranging from electric Miles to Naked City to Supersilent – in this tight, 42-minute disc. The record was initially commissioned as a film score, and brought the players into the studio for a couple days of improv, and with no pre-production. And the results are generally pretty fun. The disc opens with some echo chamber noise, like the sound of old school video games played in Bill Dixon’s cryptosphere. Some cosmic Björkenheim guitar freakery with Storløkken opens up a rotund groove fueled by Ågren (whose playing is poised halfway between Paal Nilssen-Love and Martin Brandlmayr) and a booming Dunn. They generate a lot of light and heat in music that’s often busy and filled with verve, but a touch indistinct. Björkenheim is always exciting, but I’m not sure I entirely care for the way he processes his guitar here (since it takes away from his very distinct attack and loses the warmth of tone that previously identified him), and sometimes he worries his ideas a bit too much (as with a long passage of finger-tapping on the opener).
But there are lots of dynamic variations and good ideas that redeem the more formulaic hyper-jamming (which, in fairness, will probably please lots of folks). On many tracks, Box creates big caverns of sound, filling them with muted transmissions from the firmament. And there are many specific highlights too. I love the pings and fades on “Untitled 11.” There’s some occasional bowing and prepared guitar stuff, as on “Untitled 7,” where everyone gets down with some jittery clicking and tapping, teleporting all over the place. “Untitled 3” is a limber mid-tempo funk with outstanding robotic phrasing from Björkenheim and Storløkken. And while “Untitled 13” opens with fairly uninspiring blank canvas impressionism, it coils into a chugging riff that’s hard to resist. Studio 1’s not entirely top-shelf stuff, but where it works, it’s excellent fun.