I’m trying to figure out why Quit Your Unnatural Ways is different than most of the meta-math trash-thrash-bash-GASH records I’ve soaked in over the years from duos/artists like Hella, Marnie Stern, Upsilon Acrux, Ruins, Oxes and By The End Of Tonight. Maybe there’s more soul here? More time spent at the drawing board?
Whatever the case may be, guitar-drums unit Ava Mendoza & Nick Tamburro, after a lackluster start burdoned by obvious loops and clunky drum decisions (the title track is a regrettable way to start such a fine record; I’d initiate the relationship with “First Time Shapeshifter” for sure) kick up a dusty din, but there’s restraint here, perhaps even compositional finesse. Is that allowed within the confines of an improv freakfest? It appears so, and Mendurro manage to render the process of finding their way through the netherregions of The Planet The prog and smokin’ solo-guitar slurry quite pleasurable.
If you’ve gotten this far into the review without flipping to something else then I know you must be hardcore, so I’ll dispense with the layman’s terms and jump right into the meatplow of the matter. You see, my understanding of instrumental duos will always derive from my appreciation for Hella (back when most considered them half-a band, I might add) back at the turn of the millenium because they were the first act I’d seen that dared take things so far off the deep end. They rolled, paradiddle’d, arppegiated and solo’d so hard and fast four minutes seemed like an eternity; after 10 minutes it felt like I’d aged a full decade, like watching Wes Anderson movies for three days straight then trying to have a normal conversation.
Mendoza and Tamburro, despite their instrumental-duo status, couldn’t be more astray from Spencer Seim and Zach Hill. Their sound sculptures seem heavily labored over like a complicated detail painting or a score to a black-and-white film, with boatloads of dynamic shifts and tangents to hang the ear on, and they’ve got the eye-popping prowess to fill out an album with ease despite their limited man/womanpower. A poetic convergence of solo guitar and devil-daring drums? I never thought I’d see the day, but that’s exactly what we’re talking about here.
I should have expected as much from a sticksmen of Tamburro’s repute, as he is now the drummer for longtime Gumshoe favorites The Dead Science (that’s actually quite sad for me; what happened to frontman Jherek’s brother Korum Bischoff?) but Quit Your Unnatural Ways is still a push or two beyond what I rightfully could have anticipated, flaunting his ballz-out style with braggadocio and getting out of the way when it’s time for Mendoza to peel off a fuckin’ faceplate or two. I detect just a smidgeon of going-through-the-motions within “Jake’s Song” (as a drummer I reserve the right to point that out); it seems like she’s sort of puttering along and he has no choice but to follow that vibe as best he can, I’d wager. Considering that’s the only such moment spread across six knee-deep tracks, both apparently are benefiting from a tandem arrangement many find to be stultifying (I’ll sound off again on this one because I’ve jammed with one, maybe two guitarist who can make the duo lineup interesting.).
If the instrumental-duo aesthetic has failed to turn your ear in the past, the fresh approach of Mendoza/Tamburro might put the spring back in your quickstep, or, if nothing else, will serve as a pleasant detour from whatever you might be listening to these days.