KTHXBYE (say it OK, thanks, bye) is the Norwegian duo of Stian Larsen (guitar) and Brage Tørmænen (drums), which sometimes, as on Details (Raw Tonk), expands to a trio with the addition of British saxophonist Colin Webster.
Tørmænen’s webpage cites his “background as a punk drummer and incorporating elements from noise music, rock and metal,” and all of that feeds into the sounds of both his electronic noise/improv duo Golden Retriever and, in distilled form, his playing for KTHXBYE. The brisk, fidgety insistency of his solo kit drumming introduces the self-explanatory “I. 3.18” before the others enter in a squall, and his booming kick drum carries an insistent if variable pulse as Webster and Larsen rip into a grinding free-noise workout that resolves into a beautifully handled diminuendo.
The album’s sound is raw and bare boned but clear and vivid. Webster’s on tenor sax throughout, often matching Larsen’s harsh, rebarbative flat picking with curt, throaty vocalisations and multiphonics.
The album’s seven cuts are sharply varied. While “II. 06:43” is aggressively staccato, turning combustible until Webster drops out, then grinding slowly to a halt, “III. 11:43” is a contrasting exercise in slow-burning intensity.
It begins in near silence, as Larsen plays a minimal, mechanistic chugging that slowly increases in volume, as Webster experiments with quiet tonguing and breath sounds before laying on smeary sustains and then overblowing forcefully. Tørmænen comes in about half way through, accenting the gathering weight and impetus of the performance with bright accents rained down or scraped up on cymbals, eventually reintroducing a low-end kick drum pulse that gives the swelling volume real heft.
The next three cuts form a suite of sorts. “IV. 05:25” is a jittery confection of chafing and scraping, and “V. 03:36” takes that further, Webster soloing tersely against small sounds from circumscribed gestures, with only thin metallic cymbal sounds providing any patterning. “VI. 09:11” picks up where “V” leaves off, only with far more explosive energy. Larsen plays loud, ground-out contact sounds and pitch-bent riffs while Webster blows a sour free jazz squall and Tørmænen drums up a storm.
Amid the turbulence and stress there’s an interval where Webster lays out, leaving Tørmænen exposed to a light cymbal rain, but that narrows our focus onto the effects-laden groove the guitarist is ploughing (no articulated picking for a long stretch, just ground-out noise), which leads to a ferocious climax.
The only real precursor to this sort of thing is the bare, uncompromising ferocity of Last Exit.
“VII. 05:16” reprises the staccato attack of “II” before changing tack completely to embrace a near-silence, which enfolds only the subtlest of musical gestures.
Details is a beautifully realised, well-rounded album, with all the visceral immediacy of the best free jazz of the post-rock era, but also real sensitivity to group dynamics and shades of expression.
Stian Larsen guitar; Brage Tørmænen drums; Colin Webster tenor saxophone.
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