In another era, Alexander Tucker’s productions would have been thrown into the “singer-songwriter” category. Luckily, he belongs to those who make such taxonomies obsolete and the associated glossary distinctively old-fashioned. Tucker does play “songs”, but purposefully strays from the well-trodden structures onto divergent pathways of ruminative improvisation or libidinal freak-out.
Still, his writing can be elegant and memorable. He excels in bucolic ballads delivered on string instruments (mostly guitar and banjo) subjected to idiosyncratic de-tunings and re-tunings.
Tucker has been rubbing shoulders with some of the alternative music greats on both sides of the Atlantic – Jackie O’Motherfucker, Sunno)) and Guapo. We will certainly hear more from him in future.
The strophic song opens with two dancing guitars endowed with unconventional tunings. They trace a self-replicating figure in major scale with bells nurturing the determined, ballabile beat. Within this pendular structure, chords reiterate until a plaintive voice intones the tearful complaint “where are my friends and where do they live?” A countertenor (rather than falsetto) lulls us deceptively in its tacit despair: “early to rise and early to fall”, we hear. The humble (and hummable) tune invites the body and soul to sway with it. Finally Tucker picks up his banjo and awakens us up from this intoxicating slumber by improvising respectfully within the meter.
A ringing guitar picking is reminiscent of Only a Mother’s folksy side. The banjo and guitar tunings convert these instruments into strident, shackled, strung up torques – something Steven Stapleton attempted many moons ago. Here, the vocal placement forces the strings to slide along the scales after each stanza, before Tucker returns to the Anglo-Irish picking style. An unstable harmonic stasis is conjured up by a melodica, organ or some other reed instrument capable of sustaining lengthy notes. Tucker allows his electric guitar to reverberate, while pick-scraping the acoustic instrument. The former lifts off into outer space, thus disambiguating the decision to name the record after this increasingly schizophrenic track. And yet, the OAM-style picking soon returns to remind us that this is a “song”. Joel Lewis guests here on vocal.
The Patron Saint of Troubled Men
A meeting between a banjo and a zither, bowed for color (synaesthesia would dictate Aspen gold). The multi-vocal wailing nearly brings back the memories of Abbey Roadian harmonics circa 1967.
Bowed string notes usher a drifting, analgesic guitar of “More” heritage. The strings produce a high-pitched drone for the laminated, flabby electric guitar solo. Then the droning swell becomes oppressive and tails off before acoustic guitar picking returns to its minimal setting. Sobering harmonic visits from an accordion turn the instrumental exchange into a playful and well correlated exposé. The falsetto soars and wanes in its subdued, cryptic, veiled manner. No wonder that Tucker has been compared to Six Organs of Admittance.
In this abstract interlude, a pre-school acoustic piano co-operates with the ever nostalgic African thumb piano, bowed zither, melodica (or is it harmonium?), drums and cymbals. Initially the vectors are divergent and occasional confluence seems rather unintended. The playing is obviously multi-tracked, but lax and unshowy. Tucker does not go as far as to use lapses of silence. Instead, he appears interested in the accumulation of timbres and free-form search for functionality. The piece remains essentially directionless, except in the accordion parts.
Another guitar and banjo hymn to early sunrise optimism. The autotrophic step-ups are regular and homely. Then the solo guitar picking takes over, devising more figurative vistas. Tucker controls the instrument’s resonance perfectly and juxtaposes it (again) with detuned scraping on the second guitar. His faint voice always appears slower than the guitar-measured tempo, but he never fails to fall into the bar. There is a seductive parallelism in this treatment.
Stealing toys from Pascal Comelade’s playroom, Tucker shows off here a small xylophone and a tired mechanical clock. The idiophonic tremolo invites guitar and banjo for a plurality of strokes, grazes and accents. Melodically it never goes anywhere.
Hand of Reign
This longer composition embodies the more experimental (and electric) rock side of Tucker’s. It relies largely on a guitar drone and crested waves from a detuned acoustic guitar, evoking Bardo Pond’s most demented moments. The droney overburden intensifies inexorably, carrying an echoed, psychotic vocalize and a feedback engine. Then the drone coughs, leaving out vacuum spaces like a Cantor Set. It allows for the acoustic guitar to tread to the fore, with the electronic whir now transformed into discretely distributed articulation. With the rate of oscillation changing, the auditory illusion places the vocal in the center of attention, along with the drummer and his poetically muted metals (Paul May). This excellent specimen of wordless psychodrama ebbs away slowly, but predictably.
Sung into Your Brightning Skull
After that impressive climax, it is not surprising that we are back in the good ole’ banjo territory all over again. The track offers a gestaltic closure, scooping formulas from the first “Hag Stones”, heard 46 minutes before. The song recapitulates the mood from the entire record – ethereal and tranquil, yet enigmatic and spellbinding.
All of Tucker’s records are recommended, but I have not (yet) heard the most recent position. “Old Fog” remains my personal favorite.
Alexander TUCKER: “Alexander Tucker” (2000)
Alexander TUCKER: “Old Fog” (2003-04)
Alexander TUCKER: “Furrowed Brow” (2006)
Alexander TUCKER: “Portal” (2008)