Pretty Monsters – self-titled (Public Eyesore 2014, PE120 CD)

Pretty Monsters is the New York City based quartet of Katherine Young on bassoon and electronics, Owen Stewart-Robertson on guitar and electronics, Mike Pride on drums and percussion, and Erica Dicker on violin. Together they play an interesting and varied brand of chamber ensemble gone avant-rock.

Relief opens the 7 track CD and feels like a pleasant conversation between the bassoon, violin and guitar. The instruments chat lightly via a series of brief melodies and short bursts of bassoon drones, soundscapes, and passionate violin solos, augmented by sparse, light percussion. Things get more aggressive with Patricia Highsmith, which has a chamber ensemble meets James Blood Ulmer feel. The guitar continually alternates between bursts of rocking out and passionately restrained passages, as the bassoon and violin free jazz jam. The drums rock out steadily, and as a whole it’s an intensely plodding succession of energetic bursts and restraint. In fact, after I’d heard this a few times it occurred to me there’s a Blues element to the music, and by the last couples minutes Stewart-Robertson is kicking out some killer solos. Feldspar is a short rocker where the drums lay down a fiery rhythmic pulse which the guitar, bassoon and violin jam along to. All three are soloing wildly and near the end the guitar gets densely metallic, making the whole sound like Henry Cow gone heavy metal. Crushed starts off sounding like a screechy scratchy take on Philip Glass. In fact, this sounded so familiar I checked the credits which say all compositions are by Katherine Young. The core melody has that minimalist Glass sound. But the music gets really interesting later as the violin is screeching madly while the guitar plays a dissonant but pleasant ambient melody, eventually taming the violin into melodic submission. But all does not remain warm and fuzzy as the piece transitions to full blown dense noise electronic mode, before settling into a sound collage finale. Lots of interesting variety on this one. For Autonauts, For Travelers is an avant-chamber ensemble stroll, including adventures into percussion and sound. The 12 minute Deuterium starts slowly and includes some of the most beautifully melodic music of the set. The guitar plays chords that are a dissonant contrast to the heartstring tugging violin, the bassoon provides low end support, and the drums are laid back but feel like they’re going to break out rocking at any moment. This never happens, though in the last few minutes the music briefly switches gears to a more free-wheeling avant-jazz jam, returning to the opening theme for the finale. Finally, Entropy has an intensely theatrical feel, combining chamber ensemble, spaced out atmospherics and effects, powerhouse drum blasts, and freaky avant-Rock.

What really grabbed about this album is the configuration of instruments, particularly the use of bassoon and violin in a rock context. I could easily see this being of interest to a variety of audiences but it certainly appealed to the avant-Proghead in me.

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Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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