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low frequency speaker test
Jet Black Crayon
Low Frequency Speaker Test


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If you’re like me, you like some hip-hop, you get into some turntable stuff, you’d like to check out some clubs, you think it’s all the new jazz and on and on and on. But you don’t really buy any of the records and you don’t really go to any of the shows. So when I get Low Frequency Speaker Test in the mail for review, I notice first off that it’s Tommy Guerrero’s deal. You know: Bones Brigade. Skateboarding has always been kinda like the hip-hop thing. Dig it, but don’t really do it. So anyway, I’m totally intrigued 'cos it’s Guerrero (who swears music’s always been bigger than half-pipes for him) playing bass and Monte Vallier (of Swell) playing a second bass and sound effects. Gadget is on turntables and “other madness.” Slow jam beats from Tim Degaugh give all this a place to rest. Together, these Bay Area boys are making some beautiful music. It’s an EP, only about a half-hour long, but it really picks you up quickly and carries you along with such grace that it’s a half-hour well spent.

It is indeed the bass guitars that these songs are written for. Harmonics and melodies from one, deep pulsing tones from the other. But the drums are absolutely fantastic, with perfect taste and timing in all their clever fills, rolls and rhythms. Layered on top are samples, scratches and other phased-out strange sounds that at times could be inserted into earlier Tortoise records (before they did the super-jazz thing) to make a snug fit. But other times, it’s more fun and lighthearted than that. The opening track, “Some Sort of Intro”, is a sans-drums soundscape with an eerie piano singing in the backdrop. It’s got that stoned-and-serious feel. The second track brings in some very calm beats, perfect-pitch feedback and a sampled voice of an older man repeating “San Francisco.” And from there, they’ve got you. Soon, without really noticing the track numbers changing, you’re onto “And So It Goes”, which does a great job teetering on the edge of circus music while still keeping a locked solid tight rope walking groove. “The Tree” is the only track that seems distracting; it’s too close to funk and some of the sounds here come off as cheap, like bad funk does -- but that quickly goes away and “Scammon’s Lagoon” saves the day with the most rock and roll of all the songs. Still tweaked and played with, you get a sense here of the way these guys must come off live: All parts -- drums and guitars and turntables -- come at you with equal and impressive energy.

Low Frequency Speaker Test closes the same way it opens. “Life Vest” is built on two floating bass riffs which lay the song in front of you. Mixed in are the haunting samples of a small group of people laughing gaily. It’s a package deal that works more like an album than your standard EP.

Guerrero and his mates are involved in a good number of other projects, many found on Jet Black Crayon member Gadget’s Function 8 label. Guerrero also has his own new full-length, A Little Bit of Somethin’, on Mo’ Wax. I’ve not yet gotten the chance to check out these other releases, but Low Frequency Speaker Test is pushing me to do so.

-- Adam Voith

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