Album Review- VaVatican

VaVatican- “SoSoviet (I Loved You and You Broke My Heart)”
Recorded and Mixed by Nathaniel Morgan at Buckminster Palace. 
Mastered by Jeff Kaiser
released 15 March 2012 
Weston Minissali- Synthesizer , Nathaniel Morgan- Alto Saxophone, Owen Stewart-Robertson- Guitar, Booker Stardrum- Percussion

A new take on experimental music is audible on VaVatican’s debut release from Prom Night Records. SoSoviet is neither a jazz nor noise record, and is decidedly not “free improvisation.” Lyrics and vocal harmonies emerge out of sparse pointillistic textures. Steady rhythms clang against frenzied un-pitched saxophones; juxtapositions abound. It is eloquently articulated absurdity.

As improvisors, each of these musicians is developing sonic vocabularies and musical tendencies unique to themselves. Alto saxophonist Nathaniel Morgan employs various preparations in order to create his array of sounds; among these are a scotch-taped mouthpiece that, when applied to his horn, results in subtle and unusual multi-phonics. Drummer Booker Stardrum and guitarist Owen Stewart-Robertson both use contact microphones to attain scratchy low-fi effects. Weston Minessali’s analogue synthesizer allows him to create wobbly sub-bass, piercing squeals, and everything in between.
The recording studio, as a medium, provides its own set of limitations and freedoms, in reality quite different from live performance. This is something rarely acknowledged by improvising musicians who often view recording as an act of documentation. VaVatican, in their approach to the studio as a compositional tool, have created something that far surpasses what mere documentation could. Of course Nathaniel Morgan, saxophonist and sound engineer, is not working with the engineering capabilities of industry great Nigel Godrich. Instead he is figuring out how to work wonders in his one room studio in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and SoSoviet, especially when listened to in that context, is evidence of his success. 
For the most part the tracks showcase an anti-narrative ethos. Instead of explicit beginning-middle-end structures, VaVatican has sewn together musical patchworks. These episodic compositions rely more on the construction of sonic “zones” than on melody and form. Textures vary: some are incredibly dense and chaotic, like the crescendo on the opening track, others are strangely beautiful, like the voice chorale in “Chirps.” Zosia," the most “song-like” of the pieces, features some “smooth-jazz” alto sax licks that are downright hilarious. 
Humor is a big part of this recording, but it tends to serve the music. On track two of the album, Weston’s synthesizer recreates the exact buzz of a speaker glitch, which lasts long enough for one to consider whether their stereo is broken. In one regard this is merely an inside joke amongst the band. However, it engages the act of listening, inducing those hearing it to get up and address the noise. This blurring of the divide between intended and, presumably, unintended noise is one of the many instances of VaVatican toying with listeners’ musical perceptions.
VaVatican represent an odd class of performer. Most of their album is serious, strange, and technically well executed, but they end it with a ska-band style thank you track, complete with inside jokes and cheesy backing guitar line. SoSoviet, in its sincere and comical moments alike, is truly a refreshing take on experimental music.
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