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Chris Abrahams: Memory Night (Room40)

Chris Abrahams works more conventionally as the pianist for the Necks, but his solo music is far more interesting to me. The first time I heard him was on his last outing for Australian outer fringes label Room40, Play Scar, which made it to my best of 2011 list. It’s a very strange and entirely original collection of music, hard to categorize or even adequately describe. Memory Night is something altogether different than its predecessor. Somehow it feels more visceral to me — whether you like it or not, this music is likely to evoke a strong response. It’s divided into four pieces, with a faint hum and texture leading off the first half of “Leafer.” I’m not quite sure how he made the sound here, nor am I sure I want to know. Part of what makes Abrahams’ music so magical is that it is so unique and weird. “Leafer” progresses with a crescendo of feedback before it tumbles into a shifty cacophony of metallic surface scrapes, like someone wrestling with air ducts progressively more wildly as it proceeds. “Bone and Team” is a different kind of texture, a tiny racket of piano tickling, clanging triangles, and other sounds I can’t quite identify. Is that a disembodied guitar? Again, does it matter? Strange stuff; this music gets under my skin. There are slight references to some of the more overt musicality of Play Scar, but none of the obviousness. When the second cut ends with a prolonged organ drone, it’s not at all like the elegaic poise of his last one. “Strange Bright Fact” seems like onomatopoeia, a swirl of both high and low end textures and sounds, zipping across the stereo spectrum from left to right and back again. When Abrahams’ piano comes through bright and clear, it’s startling but somewhat of a relief, something familiar to hold onto. But it’s fleeting; the remainder of the piece sounds like a chorus of bats screeching. (Somehow it all works!) “Stabilised Ruin” feels like a deconstruction of that piano and other ideas explored on the first few cuts, but nothing is obvious. Abrahams has a knack for manipulating sound and moving it far from its source into something otherworldly, and these four pieces are no exception. Memory Night could not be further from easy listening, but those interested in the outer limits of improvisation and sound tinkering will find delight in its strange world.

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