You know, there just isn't enough ukulele music out there. With Tiny
Tim's passing, the instrument's most notable poster boy no longer draws
our attention to the wee guitar. I recall a dude named Carmaig
deForest who played solo punk shows with nothing but the little four-stringer.
And there's some outfit in LA called Uke Fink that writes clever rock
ditties with the help of it. But what about experimental uke music?
Or at least that's what I thought until an unassuming firecracker of a
CD out of Champaign, Illinois found its way to me. Hell, if John Cage
could make music by plucking the pricks of a cactus, who's to say the
ukulele can't steal the spotlight from guitars and keyboards now and
then -- especially when it comes to batshit-crazy tunes like those dished
out by Williwaw?
The tracks on A Portrait of Shelves are tough to identify by name, so please forgive me
for sticking to the numbers. Track two, clocking in at fourteen minutes,
runs the gamut from simple, unadulterated uke plucking to a chugging,
indecipherably thick aural assault. When Williwaw gears up the effects
and latches on to a catchy hook, look out, because this noise will not
only piss off the neighbors -- it'll stir your soul a bit too.
While the first few balls-to-the-wall tracks strive to overwhelm you
with strident uke gusto, some later cuts mellow, casting the instrument
as a hypnotic rhythm maker. Track 6, for instance, with its
hypnotically repetitive patterns that evolve so slowly you're almost lulled into
sleep, could well be a Steve Reich composition. Yet, lest the listener
grow too comfortable, Williwaw follows up that cut with a distorted
rocker. As the fuzzy uke lead builds over a droning sea of distant howls,
one wonders if Sonic Youth or Flipper might have contributed to this
The CD concludes with two long tracks, one of which could very well be a recording of
werewolf whales, if there were such a thing. Its sonorous moans straddle
ecstasy and agony so effectively that you don't know whether to be
comforted or deeply troubled. Williwaw's entire CD is like that. I'm so
stunned by the versatility, beauty and ugliness unleashed by this little
chunk of aluminum that I took for granted that I don't know whether to love it
or fear it. Perhaps that's just the way Williwaw -- and maybe even Tiny
Tim -- would have it.