Dan Weiss - Starebaby

Label: Pi Recordings, 2018

Personnel - Craig Taborn: keyboards, piano; Matt Mitchell: keyboards, piano; Ben Monder: guitar; Trevor Dunn: bass; Dan Weiss: drums.

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Those who are familiar with the work of American drummer Dan Weiss, a praised bandleader and sought-after sideman, will agree that openness, big ears, and versatility are vital elements of his business.

His new album, Starebaby, it’s an unheard blend of heavy metal, electronic inspirations, Twin Peaks eerie moods, and a dash of jazz. The outcome is an unparalleled dark symphony filled with both mercurial meters and ethereal passages. The orchestration was made with ubiquitous presences in the New York jazz scene such as keyboardists Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell, guitarist Ben Monder, and bassist Trevor Dunn, who, sharing the same taste of rugged sounds, captured Weiss’ compositional spirit with attitude, turning possible a project that was envisioned ten years ago.

The opening track, “A Puncher’s Chance”, starts off with electro-acoustic guitar sounds in a sheer classical moment, but soon bursts into a powerful alternative rock mode created by dirty keyboard sounds, well-fixed bass notes, and powerful drumming. After a middle passage designed for dreamlike piano and wrapped in a smoky effect, the band reinstates that monolithic riff over a gush of energetic rock.

Depredation” kicks off with a dragging pulse, sustained synth chords, agitated guitar, and sparse bass activity. It mutates to a vehement synth-metal intoxicated by trashy power chords, trance-like electronic vibes, and a scalding guitar solo that causes trepidation.

The quintet plunges into reflectiveness on “The Memory of My Memory”, but that initially gracious if mysterious state morphs into a snarling toil firmly planted in doom metal. Weiss’ dried spanks on snare and tom-toms grow in fierceness and the tenebrous atmosphere, somewhere between Anathema and Paradise Lost, also encapsulates Monder’s brief solo.

Both “Annica” and “Cry Box” expose piano in their introductory sections. Even non-aggressive, the former brings uneasiness and causes foreboding apprehension through the fatalism of its somber shadows, reminiscing the ways of My Dying Bride. On the latter, the band builds multiple textures with a forthright sense of tempo and attention to detail, passing through a grungy tunnel with electro melodies before achieving peace.

A tribute to the American composer of Twin Peaks, “Badalamenti” has a fluid bass-drums flow underpinning ethereal harmonic incursions and Monder’s heroic guitar mobilizations. Alone, the bandleader packs glorious chops, preparing a virile, odd-metered rock passage that would be an asset in any of David Lynch’s inscrutable thriller films. It all winds up in the contrapuntal electronic wizardry of Taborn and Mitchell.

The influence of contemporary electronic music is particularly strong on “Veiled”, a polyrhythmic epiphany with dramatic piano and shades of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and “Episode 8”, a shape-shifting phenomenon with vivid drumming, whose humoresque trance house melodies oppose to the austerity of a metal that wouldn't embarrass Black Sabbath.

Starebaby proves Weiss as a boundless drummer and unlimited composer. Whether a singular case or not, this 360-degree turn in his career will be a challenge for jazz fans. Love it or hate it, you'll find multiple transfusions of energy invading your body.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - A Puncher’s Chance ► 03 – Annica ► 06 – The Memory of My Memory