BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
Those who prefer being able to know in advance what to expect when it comes to new music by an old favorite can’t help but be confounded by an iconoclastic artist like Howe Gelb. Over the past 30 plus years, Gelb’s morphed through various incarnations – Giant Sand, Giant Giant Sand, The Band of Blackie Ranchette and several assorted solo mutations – and created a sprawling soundscape rooted in the dusty desert psychedelia of his native Tucson and tempered by roots, jazz, punk, gospel and styles from south of the border. It’s a mesh that Gelb’s dubbed “erosion rock,” and it’s as eclectic as it comes. Unpredictable is one thing, but most Gelb excursions enter the realm of arch experimentation.
If there was any doubt about that prognostication, it would be dashed immediately with the opening salvos of Gelb’s new and inexplicably titled opus, The Coincidentalist. First track “Vortexas” finds Gelb and guest vocalist Bonnie Prince Billy trading verses, each doing their best smooth croon/Barry White impression. “Left of Center” offers another sensual serenade, complete with old school ambiance. Likewise, “The 3 Deaths of Lucky,” a half-spoken duet with KT Tunstall, conveys the sound of a smoky, late night cocktail lounge, complete with deft piano chords, a soft shuffling rhythm and sophisticated jazz designs. Indeed, the same could be said for the closing entry “Instigated Chimes.” The seemingly autobiographical “Picacho Peak,” with its hushed, ashen vocal, and the unlikely shimmer and shine of “Running Behind” find Gelb and his guests – who also include Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, Will Oldham, Andrew Bird, Jon Rauhouse and protégé M. Ward – varying the mood and adjusting the template as the songs demand.
By turns both seductive and sonorous, The Coincidentalist is the kind of album that demands repeated listens, if for no other reason than to try to make sense of Gelb’s tangled pastiche. Though occasionally confounding, it inevitably turns out to be time well spent.
DOWNLOAD: “The 3 Deaths of Lucky,” “Running Behind” “Picacho Peak”
An edited version of this review also appears in issue #14 of BLURT.