Groupshow - "Anyone Care For A Drink?" (The Martyrdom of Groupshow)
Back in 2006, Jan Jelinek’s Kosmicher Pitch live band absolutely floored me. That album was, and remains, a high water mark for Jelinek, a near-perfect synthesis of repetitive psych groove and millennial glitch. It signaled a deep refinement of technique for a guy who previously made his mark by skirting around the edges of dance music. Live, I didn’t expect Jelinek, Hanno Leichtmann (a.k.a. Static) and Andrew Pekler to really break Jelinek’s clean, tasteful sound. Maybe a few acoustic flourishes, but nothing outside of the box.
I was very, very wrong. The Kosmicher Pitch live band fucking rocked. All of the pent-up energy in the album’s rigid loop structures exploded. The album was to the show as Cluster is to the Silver Apples. Like Marcus Schmickler’s Pluramon in its best moments, the three electronic musicians were a bona fide rock band, not just aesthetes in a new guise. About a year later, Jelinek and Leichtmann mentioned that the live band had been recording hours of improvised jams and was working on paring them down for a release. If anything on the album approached the sheer joy and inventiveness of the live show, it’d be something special.
While not without considerable charms, The Martyrdom of Groupshow unwisely substitutes brief, slippery sketches for cosmic heaviness. The album feels like a tease: just as a groove gets going, the group lets it fizzle. Particular tracks on Jelinek’s solo albums can fall into this trap, but his overall consistency and vision tend to pick up the slack. Here, the trio never really settles down, jumping from moment to moment, track to track. Perhaps the blueprint of the Kosmicher Pitch album allowed Groupshow to truly focus their energy. Or, if longer excerpts from the sessions were taken (the longest track on here is 4 minutes, 13 seconds), we might have been able to get a better sense of where the group intended their noodlings to go.
As it stands, The Martyrdom is a pleasant enough outing from a group capable of much more. Each musician brings his own signature style to the stew: Jelinek’s astounding sense of precisely interlocking figures, Leichtmann’s knack for deceptively simple IDM rhythms and soundscapes, and Pekler’s more outré flairs. When the group fires on all cylinders, they hit a collaborative sweet spot that folks like Humcrush are too austere to actively explore. There’s real fun to be had in how Groupshow navigate the terrifying arpeggios of “Great Art Where You Least Expect It” into the laid back groove of “Anyone Care For A Drink?” just so they can reintroduce the harsh sounds. Moments like these, where the group creates a narrative out of something ostensibly static, aren’t as abundant as they should be, but I wouldn’t consider the album a failure, and I certainly look forward to whatever else Groupshow cooks up. And if they happen to play live in your area, don’t miss it.