Messages’ Taketo Shimada and Tres Warren have been playing together since 2006, exploring contemporary variations on the Drone formula pioneered by La Monte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music, Yoshi Wada and other Fluxus tone-worshippers. Shimada himself has some apparent connections to Manhattan’s avant forefathers, working with figures such as Henry Flynt and Alison Knowles. Existing primarily as a live act over the years, Shimada and Warren (who is also a member of Psychic Ills) have jammed in lofts and at art shows around NYC, sculpting debilitating sound pieces from guitar, electronics and classical Indian instruments.
The focus for Messages’ debut, After Before, seeks to further elaborate on the more traditional side of minimalist drone music — a noble departure from the zonked pedal-fests that litter today’s experimental underground. Recorded in one session last August by Mitch Rackin, After Before consists of three jams, each named after the unique instrument used during the track: “Shruti Box,” “Tambura,” and “Ukelin.” They’re also accompanied by Spencer Herbst on percussion, who threads a tranquil pulse beneath the duo’s tones. The dynamic between the trio feels loose and elastic, lending the record an organic air.
“Shruti Box” is a 17-minute monster that comprises the entire A-side — the clear winner of the three cuts. Building on Warren’s hypnotic bellows, the track lulls and entices, leading the listener in an ambling circle. Shimada’s bass anchors the groove, affected by a slight wah-wah that seeps into the notes. The percussive variations give the song a sense of mobility, with Herbst moving between finger-tapped tablas and plotted gong strikes. Like any successful drone track, “Shruti Box” seems to escape the clock, ending as it begins in a nod to the universal hum that music like this strives to infiltrate.
Side B is less intoxicating, mainly because its two tracks are more noticeably improvised and sprawling. On “Tambura,” Shimada provides the foundation using the track’s namesake while Warren layers Eastern-inflected guitar lines on top. “Ukelin” encounters a few stumbles in the otherwise scorching rhythm, sounding like it could’ve been culled from one of Sunburned Hand of the Man’s more subdued freak-outs; not quite as bizarre, but still possessing an eeriness all its own.
Though it may not be perfect, After Before stands as a refreshing return to form for those keen to the forefathers of drone. With such a knack for subtlety and otherwordly communion, Messages have tapped into something special. Needless to say, if you’re looking for a proper record to check out to for an evening, After Before gets the job done better than most.