Hermit Hut Records issuing free-improv guitarist Tashi Dorji’s album as its opening gambit offered only a portion of label honcho Ben Chasny’s sonic proclivities. Chasny, who performs both as the acoustically inclined Six Organs of Admittance, as well as formerly playing in Comets on Fire, moves his imprint into a more rock-centric realm with the label’s second release, Chris Smith’s Bad Orchestra, while retaining an improvisational and experimental tone.
Coming out of an antipodean lineage, Smith performed as guitarist in the Ancients and the Golden Lifestyle Band, each sporting touches of shoegaze and plain pop sentiment in their approaches to rock stuff. But Smith’s prodigious playing’s found him working up solo endeavors and a duo effort that have utilized tape distortion and sampling to various degrees. While Smith would likely bristle at the idea any album serving to codify his playing, Bad Orchestra offers examples of almost-traditional songcraft alongside ambient bits of his experimentation that have become progressively more porous over the last decade. Bad Orchestra maybe isn’t the summation of his craft, but at least a decent glimpse into what Smith has become musically invested in. And it’s a lot.
Bad Orchestra throws down its two most broadly palatable efforts to open the album, “Living Dead Blues” and Smith’s knotty soloing coming off all Neil Young gestures and featuring some of the disc’s rare moments that include vocals. Found sound, piano plunking and an approximation of electrified psych-folk follow, before the disc arrives at its aural apotheosis.
Guitar ripples all sedate through a minute and change of the “The Orbit,” as tape sounds and samples make up the even shorter “Bobby O and the Big Problem.” Some saccharine ‘50s pop functions as the substrata for Smith to sample the Germs’ Darby Crash chastising his band for mucking up a recording. It’s an odd inclusion on a work so clearly focused on exploring sundry ways to manipulate a guitar and tape, but might point to the fact that Smith doesn’t need anyone playing drums who’s too slow or a bass that is too fast to make a recording. And neither does Chasny, perhaps unifying these two players and explaining why Hermit Hut’s second offering veers so far from what anyone could have guessed was on the horizon.