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sold out

Pretty Monsters - s/t

-Patricia Highsmith
-For Autonauts, For Travelers

Katherine Young - bassoon & electronics
Erica Dicker - violin
Owen Stewart-Robertson - electric guitar
Mike Pride - drums & percussion

(Something Else) Just about every other symphony orchestral instrument has been drafted into service for the diabolically opposed world of improvised music, so why not the bassoon? That's a question that's not only been asked but also affirmatively answered, by Katherine Young. Having worked with Anthony Braxton and Faust's Joachim Irmler, Young started making a name as a solo performer, cradling this long, straight double-reeded instrument with an array of effects foot pedals set in front of her. Young's use of pedals doesn't contort the sound of her bassoon beyond recognition, they serve to amplify the unusual sounds she can coax from the instrument, some of which are not what you'd typically hear from that horn, but Young's got broader goals in mind. Namely, to take the bassoon to places it's never gone before. She can be alternately mellow or abrasive, metallic or ruminative. No mood, no timbre is out of bounds to Young. A couple of years ago, she took the bassoon and her strange concepts for playing it to a combo format, a quartet called Katherine Young's Pretty Monsters. Even here, she breaks cleanly from convention. Consisting of Young, Erica Dicker (violin), Owen Stewart-Robertson (guitars, electronics) and Mike Pride (drums & percussion), Pretty Monsters is a band with a rock-bred, punk attitude rhythm section jousting with the avant-chamber tendencies of Young and Dicker. The seven compositions - all Young's - don't seem to follow any discernable structure: some are one or two chord songs, others atonal and rootless. Because Young does this, everyone is allowed more freedom, and are interesting noises and shapes the replace any semblance of what is widely recognized as melody. The interaction among everyone is intimate and critical to the flow of these songs. "Relief" plays out like a light, quiet conversation among four people, based on a single note, never rising above a murmur. That all changes on the next track, the doom dirge rock bombast of "Patricia Highsmith" (YouTube below), defined by Stewart-Robertson's skittish lines and Pride's discreet prowling, with Young and Dicker reacting and providing counterpoints. "For Autonauts, For Travelers" is most indicative of Young's solo work: it begins with her grunting, gyrating bassoon, and the others fill in the accents with a flighty violin, random electronic chirps and odd guitar sounds until Pride's percussive effects begins to enter into focus. "Crushed" begins with Dicker's arpeggiated violin played like a fiddle, going relentlessly until the notes are bled out, and a dreamy sequence led by Stewart-Robertson soon runs into a buzz-saw of dense, pure noise. Pride is finally let off the leash on the final track "Entropy," determined to stamp out all the ambient-noise sounds generated from the other three. Nope, there's nothing at all typical about the bassoon playing of one Katherine Young, and as a fascinating, unbounded extension of her musical personality, neither are her Pretty Monsters. Katherine Young's Pretty Monsters is a brash, assured first statement from a talented young performer who is poised to do for the bassoon what Tom Cora did for the cello. - S. Victor Aaron

(Monk Mink Pink Punk) Young has played bassoon with various Anthony Braxton groups for a few years now, and the quartet she has assembled to perform her own compositions are as exciting, or maybe more so, than that of one of my favorite and most listened-to jazz composers. Drummer Mike Pride and guitarist Owen Stewart-Robertson at times provide a heavy rock influence, and at other times, the strange instrumentation, Erica Dicker’s electric violin is the fourth instrument, recalls that wonderful Fred Lonberg-Holm project Trigger and at times the kinetic funk of God Is My Co-pilot. The bassoon and violin’s strange sonorities spar with the electric guitar, no instrument taking a back seat to the others as a supportive role. This is an exciting release that flattens boundaries between genres with a wonderful group chemistry. - Josh Ronsen

(The Free Jazz Collective) It doesn't happen often that you listen to an album wondering what the hell is happening here. Pretty Monster's debut album is one of those albums. You hear lots of familiar stuff, some jazz, some rock, some classical even, but then everything is stretched and mangled to fit another sound purpose, something strange, unique and compelling, covered with a sauce of noise, and all that without losing a coherent sense of lyricism that ties the entire album together. The band offering you this wonderful stew are Katherine Young on bassoon and electronics, Erica Dicker on violin, Owen Stewart-Robertson on guitar and electronics, and Mike Pride on drums and percussion. I have expressed my appreciation for Katherine Young in previous reviews, and on this album she pushes her own personal vision even further, and the description of her music she puts in her bio is actually quite accurate : "creates acoustic and electro-acoustic music that uses curious timbres, expressive noises, and kinetic structures to explore the dramatic materiality of sound, constantly shifting ensemble energies, and the tension between the familiar and the strange". Young and Dicker have both studied at the Oberlin College and Conservatory and have worked with Anthony Braxton. The first track, "Relief", sets the tone for the album. A single simple phrase from the bassoon is thrown in the air for violin and guitar to repeat and change as and when they see fit, yet the sounds then move towards a tuneless floating drone, out of which the initial phrase resurrects. It's not complex, it's quite effective. "Patricia Highsmith" offers the musical equivalent of the American author's novels, full of changes, odd twists and turns, halting rhythms, suspenseful uncertainty and destroyed lives. "Feldspar" is more rockish, and could be a King Crimson tune, full of stubborn and wayward violence. "Crushed" starts with a repetitive violin phrase, with minor alterations in the way of Philip Glass, mesmerizing and unnerving, increasingly moving into noisy screaches, while the guitar starts playing a beautiful arpeggiated chord progression, more rock than jazz, with chimes adding sweet touches, until out of nowhere a tsunami of noise arises, muting all other sounds, and when the wave has passed, only mutilated memories of the theme remain. "For Astronauts And Travellers" offers shimmering sounds, floating somewhere, unattached to anything, with the bassoon leading the way through galaxies of crackling noise and spacy tones, strangely interrupted at the end by the drums playing a military march. On "Deuterium", a slow and raw metallic chord progression of the guitar is joined by the beautiful and sweet repetitive phrases of the violin, seemingly going nowhere until halfway through the track Mike Pride starts adding small percussive effects, then the whole thing stops when the low bassoon sounds act as an intruder, creating some chaos into the action, until slowly and obstinately, the guitar and violin recover from the shock and continue their bizarre dance, yet with a little less enthusiasm, with a little more sadness. "Entropy" starts with heavy drum beats full of dramatic effect, rather than rhythmic, attracting nightmarish sounds from guitar violin bassoon electronics, which coalesce then the guitar chooses sides with the drums joining the same beat while bassoon and violin fade away in horror. The whole thing is beyond categorization, but it shows something else, a new sound that is as eclectic as it is creative and compelling. The musicianship is excellent, but their skill, and even their active participation, is totally functional for the musical vision, which offers something like short stories, with instruments like characters moving through a plot, with changing perspectives, different psychologies, conflicting interests and developing into unexpected endings and resolutions. Surely a major contender for this year's Happy New Ears award. - Stef

(Critical Jazz) Jazz bassoon...Imagine the most eclectic music you have ever heard, kick it up about 50 notches and you are getting close to the level of creativity turned out with Katherine Young's Pretty Monsters. As a recovering pseudo-intellectual jazz snob the crazy thing is that from cover art to compositions to dealing with influences that range from Art Ensemble of Chicago to Giacomo Scelsi - this release really works! The best description of Pretty Monsters is that it borders on more of an "experience" than a stereotypical release. I love different sounds and remember that different is never bad - just different. Young knows the members of her 4tet well and her compositions play to their strengths. Owen Stewart-Robertson is a technician with a fret board, Erica Dicker's violin work is the virtuosity of a symphony player that has finally cast of the creative shackles of form and functionality and is simply going for it. Keep in mind for some free jazz is an acquired taste. Drummer Mike Pride could easily be called rolling thunder with his heavy handed attack on drums yet his incredible finesse with all things percussion. "Relief" opens this somewhat dark release with a lighter approach and an immediate visual of a mechanized jazz motor creaking to life as the group does a sonic exploratory with an organic sense of purpose. "Feldspar" is a sonic assault on the visceral and cerebral with intense precision and a harmonic deconstruction of controlled fury. Pride is simply insane on drums here bringing back memories of the late Keith Moon. A more determined and tighter harmonic bent is taken with "Deuterium." Comedian Martin Mull once said writing about music is like dancing with architecture. Heavy metal jazz on steroids with layers of texture that include guitar washes, violin drones, electronic flights of fancy all somehow tied to a virtuoso bassoonist whose compositions take everything you thought you knew or familiar with in the free or experimental jazz genre and politely tosses it right out the window and this is a beautiful thing. I would be remiss if I did not mention the incredible cover art done by Rob Patterson. The term "free-jazz" or "experimental" gained widespread acceptance because some jazz writers had no idea what to call certain pieces of music from Ornette Coleman and other artists so they tagged it with an abstract label in an effort to distinguish the artist from the more main stream acts of the day. An editor with the Gannett publication that carries my work always told me, "water finds its weight." Now I get it..."Be The Ball Noonan." Free your mind. - Brent Black

(El Intruso) La palabra monstruo ocupa un amplio abanico de significados. Según las instituciones culturales que promulgan las normativas dirigidas a fomentar la unidad idiomática, el vocablo monstruo puede expresar la “producción contra el orden regular de la naturaleza”, describir a un “ser fantástico que causa espanto”, aplicarse a toda “cosa excesivamente grande o extraordinaria en cualquier línea”, servir en la descripción de una “persona muy cruel o perversa” y hasta utilizarse -en lenguaje coloquial- para definir a un”individuo de extraordinarias cualidades en el desempeño de una actividad determinada”. Atento a esa diversidad de acepciones puede colegirse que, en el supuesto caso que intentásemos llevar adelante un ejercicio estadístico dividiendo en grupos a las personas que les cabe cada una de las definiciones mencionadas, llegaríamos a la fatídica conclusión que el total de la poblacion mundial pertenece a la categoría de monstruo. Hilando un poco más fino, se arribará también al convencimiento de que el concepto de monstruo está ligado -de manera indisoluble- a la mitología y la ficción, ya que el término se ha usado desde épocas pretéritas para referirse a criaturas –ficticias o reales- que están fuera de los estereotipos de normalidad de la sociedad. La tendencia a creer en monstruos data de tiempos inmemoriales y lo único que ha ido cambiando a través de los años es el contenido de esas creencias; según parece, esto es así debido a que –como afirmara el psicólogo Brian Cronk- “el cerebro siempre está tratando de determinar por qué suceden las cosas y, cuando la razón no es clara, tendemos a dar explicaciones harto extravagantes”. Incluso lo que hoy se adjudica a lo sobrenatural sigue manifestando ese esfuerzo innato por comprender aquello que no podemos explicar, mediante un mecanismo que -de acuerdo a lo señalado por el científico Benjamin Radford en su columna en LiveScience- “es básicamente el mismo proceso que el de la mitología: lo que no se entiende se adjudica a lo sobrenatural”. Por ello, hoy se engloba en la palabra monstruo a vampiros, hombres lobo, zombis y chupacabras; del mismo modo que antes la mitología nos hablaba de centauros, gorgonas, esfinges y arpías, sin importar que unas u otras se sustenten en brumosas evidencias, comprobaciones dudosas, informes adventicios e ideas cuestionables. Sin embargo, la palabra monstruo suele utilizarse también de manera arbitraria y prejuiciosa para descalificar a personas que realizan actos opuestos a los valores morales del entorno social imperante o que representan intereses antagónicos a los que uno profesa. La subjetividad inherente a este tipo de comportamientos, admite que se adjudique a una persona el mote de monstruo por el solo hecho de pensar diferente o que determinadas conductas sean catalogadas como monstruosas cuando, en realidad, obedecen a otros arquetipos conductuales. Esta pluralidad de criterios permite –por dar unos pocos ejemplos- que alguien califique como “monstruo” a un golpeador de mujeres del mismo modo que otro hace lo propio con una vendedora de telemarketing (cuando es sabido que la insistencia de estas últimas puede transformar a la persona más pacífica del mundo… en lo primero) o que muchos consideren a un asesino serial como el paradigma de la monstruosidad mientras algunos entendamos que ese lugar le corresponde a… no sé… digamos, mi cuñado. En este caso la falta de equivalencias es insalvable ya que, usualmente, un asesino serial termina pagando sus crímenes y abrumado por la culpa y el remordimiento; en cambio, mi cuñado… ¡bueh! En el campo del arte las representaciones de la noción de “monstruo” y su simbología como manifestación de oscuras fuerzas y espacios del subconsciente han sido retratadas vivamente en incontables ocasiones. En tal sentido bastará con mencionar el carácter tenebroso hallado en el cuadro La Novena Ola del pintor ruso Ivan Aivazovsky o recurrir al monstruo tragador del ámbito infernal pergeñado por El Bosco en El Jardín de las Delicias, recordar a los monstruos que encuentra en sus fantasías el pequeño protagonista del cuento de Maurice Sendak (luego trasladado al cine por Spike Jonze) Donde viven los monstruos, revivir la mirada introspectiva a los monstruos interiores del cuadro de Goya Saturno devorando a su hijo o revivir la frase de Henry James (“Nadie sabrá nunca si los niños son monstruos o los monstruos son niños.”) con la que el cineasta Lucio Fulci cerraba Aquella casa al lado del cementerio. Tal vez una de las miradas más inquietantes sobre este tópico es la ofrecida por el escritor argentino Julio Cortázar en su cuento Casa Tomada (incluido en Bestiario de 1951); allí, la monotonía de sus personajes es invadida por una fuerza invisible -que no es otra cosa que un símbolo de los monstruos que moran en la fantasía de los protagonistas- y a la que deben enfrentar para no ser expulsados de su propia casa. Esta última referencia –y buena parte de lo anterior- guarda estrecha relación con el debut discográfico de Pretty Monsters, banda que encabeza la notable fagotista y compositora Katherine Young (Till By Turning, Anthony Braxton’s Diamond Wall Quartet, Architeuthis Walks on Land, Leah Paul’s Bike Lane, entre otros) y completan el baterista Mike Pride (From Bacteria to Boys, Drummer’s Corpse, I Don’t Hear Nothin’ but the Blues, Millions of Dead Cops, etc.), el guitarrista Owen Stewart-Robertson (Make a Circus, Even Though You’re Only One, Negative Nancy) y la violinista Erice Dicker (Till By Turning, Anthony Braxton’s Falling River Quartet, I’m in You). En este proyecto –nacido como una extensión del álbum solista de Katherine Young Further Secret Origins de 2009- se congregan los patrones del sistema de notación tradicional y los códigos encriptados de la libre improvisación, la música de cámara experimental y el noisy improv y se yuxtaponen la heterodoxia instrumental del Art Ensemble of Chicago, elementos del noise rock heredados de U.S. Maple, un tratamiento armónico emparentado a la música del precursor del espectralismo Giacinto María Scelsi e influencias literarias –aceptadas por su líder- que provienen, justamente, de Julio Cortázar. La apertura, con Relief, nos sumerge en un inquietante paisaje sonoro basado en pocas notas alteradas por medio de inflexiones microtonales, dinámicas y tímbricas en donde vale menos la construcción de un relato homogéneo que la súbita aparición de fragmentos de alta intensidad abstracta e infrecuente temperamento estético. Los climas misteriosos y opresivos en Patricia Highsmith ilustran apropiadamente el carácter de las obras de suspenso ideadas por la novelista estadounidense (autora de Stranger on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Small g: a Summer Idyll, entre muchas otras) aludida en el título de la pieza, mediante una notable conjunción entre los poderosos arrestos percusivos de la batería de Mike Pride, las vibrantes intervenciones de Erica Dicker en violín –primero en solitario y luego en un fenomenal contrapunto con el imaginativo fagot de Katherine Young- y las arrolladoras disonancias que provee la guitarra de Owen Stewart-Robertson. Tras el atrapante, visceral y volcánico andamiaje sonoro del breve Feldspar; sobreviene la original confluencia de música de cámara experimental, arte sonoro y ruido del sorprendentemente nostálgico Crushed, aquí con cardinales aportes de Erica Dicker en violín y Owen Stewart-Robertson en guitarra y electrónicos. Las influencias de Julio Cortázar en la propuesta de Pretty Monsters se hacen ostensibles en el enigmático viaje que plantea For Autonauts for Travelers, título que esboza una elíptica referencia al libro que ese autor escribiera poco antes de su muerte en sociedad con Carol Dunlop: Los autonautas de la cosmopista de 1982. Tema que encuentra, en la temeraria exploración de los recursos tímbricos del fagot a cargo de Katherine Young, a su principal protagonista. El extenso e hipnótico Deuterium va evolucionando a partir de un bucólico pasaje camerístico de extraña belleza -con epicentro en las frases del violín y los profundos acordes en guitarra- hasta converger en una coda libremente improvisada. En el abrasivo Entropy –aquí con un desempeño sobresaliente de Mike Pride en batería- se funden elementos provenientes de noise-music, rock de avant-garde e improvisación para conferirle al álbum un epílogo tan convincente como poderoso. Más allá de lo dispuesto en el imaginario colectivo, todos en algún momento nos hemos enfrentado a los monstruos y fantasmas que residen en nuestras propias fantasías. Y, en ocasiones, esos monstruos –como en el caso de los deliciosamente desafiantes y asombrosamente originales Pretty Monsters- merecen resultar victoriosos. - Sergio Piccirilli

(The Bird is the Worm) Well, they sure nailed the spirit of this album with the title Pretty Monsters. Led by bassoonist Katherine Young, this quartet delivers scarred, thrashing music that elevates Beauty as a concept transcendent of absolutes. There is nothing pretty about this music. And as far as monsters go, this music has sharp claws and fangs, but a smile like a muppet. This is an album that a person could warm up to. It’s likable in its way. It’s Something Different. Your album personnel: Katherine Young (bassoon and electronics), Owen Stewart-Robertson (guitar and electronics), Mike Pride (drums, percussion), and Erica Dicker (violin). Best tracks juxtapose a refracted sway and pretty tones with frenetic screeches and hard dissonance, especially when one sonic trait gradually forms from the midst of the other and the other fades into the backdrop. Fourth track “Crushed” is a prime example of the engaging soundplay. Two songs that don’t fall into that mold, but have their own charismatic identities are track six “Deuterium,” replete with elegant strings atop choppy guitar chords… a ballad for those happiest in loneliness. Also, second track “Patricia Highsmith,” which has a stoned headbangers Rock pulse that gets increasingly magnetic as the song develops. This ain’t an album that’s gonna appeal to everybody, but it is an album everyone should at least give the time of day to. It’s albums like this that will have such a provocative effect on some people (albeit, perhaps but a small group) as to leave them thinking about music in an entirely different way. - Dave Sumner

(All About Jazz) Rarely used in jazz and creative improvised music (except by individualists like Karen Borca), the unwieldy bassoon is commonly relegated to the role of a doubling horn, sparingly employed by eclectic multi-instrumentalists like Joseph Jarman and Yusef Lateef for its unusual tonal color. Brooklyn-based bassoonist Katherine Young transcends the instrument's reputation with a shrewd combination of talent and technology; she employs extended techniques and effects pedals to subtly expand the horn's range, as previously revealed on her acclaimed solo debut, Further Secret Origins (Porter, 2009). Pretty Monsters is the self-titled premier of Young's ensemble of the same name. The unconventional quartet alternates between neoclassical austerity and raucous metallic furor—a brash hybrid visualized by the album's chimerical cover art. Joining the leader are conservatory trained violinist Erica Dicker, chameleonic guitarist Owen Stewart-Robertson and veteran drummer Mike Pride, whose varied résumé includes stints with punk legends Millions of Dead Cops and Japanese noise experimentalists the Boredoms. Having studied with iconic composer Anthony Braxton and recorded with members of Faust and Einstürzende Neubauten, Young's vanguard aesthetic is anything but conventional; her non-linear compositions follow their own quixotic logic. The session opens with the cagey pointillism of "Relief," which features deft call-and-response between Young's perambulating flurries, Dicker's piercing glissandi, Stewart-Robertson's muted fretwork and Pride's scintillating percussion. The ominous dirge "Patricia Highsmith" follows, inverting the former dynamic as Pride's erratic trap set eruptions and Stewart-Robertson's flinty electric guitar work in spirited counterpoint against Young and Dicker's caustic retorts. The remaining tunes vacillate between similar extremes; the pithy assault of "Feldspar" contrasts with the atmospheric "Crushed," which slowly builds from rhapsodic violin arpeggios to a dreamy guitar-driven interlude, gradually overwhelmed by a coruscating wall of white noise. The reflective "For Autonauts, For Travelers" showcases Young's inspired virtuosity, as she weaves multiphonic bellows, oscillating trills and quavering intervallic refrains into rigorous thematic variations underscored by her sidemen's kaleidoscopic accents. The episodic "Deuterium" works a broad canvas, veering from melancholy to ardent, with a lyrical, affecting violin solo at its core. "Entropy" brings Pride's monolithic drum kit back into the fold; pitting thunderous blast beats against his band mates mesmerizingly minimalist contributions. Pretty Monsters is one of the most intriguing ensemble debuts in recent memory, a sonically audacious record documenting the development of a bold young artist whose arresting improvisations are as remarkable as her engaging compositions. - Troy Collins

(New York City Jazz Record) Merging populist threads with an experimental palette rarely serves either approach well - for every Arthur Russell or Laurie Anderson, there are countless artists and composers who come up short. But Chicago based bassoonist Katherine Young luckily finds herself in the former category with participation in chamber ensembles Till By Turning and Architeuthis Walks on Land and off-kilter pop group The Fancy. Pretty Monsters is a hybrid quartet bringing together noise-rock, chamber music and free improv; in addition to Young, the group consists of violinist Erica Dicker, drummer Mike Pride and guitarist Owen Stewart-Robinson. The cyclical “Patricia Highsmith” (a highlight of Young’s solo disc Further Secret Origins) is rendered with slinky undertow, lunkheaded beats colliding with fractured and skittering guitar (Stewart-Robinson is a no-wave blues revelation here) and mated with swooping ponticello bowing and low, reedy blats. Young’s bassoon is not always in the foreground; frequently, she supports higher-pitched statements from guitar and violin with droning warble or a patchwork of live electronics and loops. “For Autonauts, For Travelers” is an opportunity to hear her carve out a broad instrumental section as a soloist with an agitated supporting atmosphere. A solid vehicle for collective structure and Young’s compositional ideas, this is an impressive debut.. - Clifford Allen

(Dusted) Aside from the work of Karen Borca — who has held her own on recordings by the likes of Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, and Jimmy Lyons — the bassoon is notable mostly for its absence from rock, jazz and improvised music. Even within the realm of classical music, its most common refuge, it’s hardly an oft-featured solo instrument. Katherine Young may or may not be out to change her instrument’s status, but whatever her intent, she’s likely to do just that with her quartet Pretty Monsters. The group has existed in two versions, both centered upon her bassoon and electronics. The NYC version, which recorded this CD, includes violinist Erica Dicker, guitarist Owen Stewart-Robertson and drummer Mike Pride; the line-up recruited from the Chicago creative music scene, where she is currently active, subs guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Tim Daisy. The combo stakes out ground in the in-between spaces where so much interesting work happens these days. Having seen the group with different players, I can vouch for how much room Young gives her musicians to bring their own voice. With Daisy, these pieces swung and flowed. Pride stiffens the cadences and hardens the edges, so that each strike of a drum or cymbal (and sometimes there’s just one for a stretch of time) sets a boundary that you’ll cross at risk of harm. And when he gets going, as happens on the towering “Feldspar,” he sounds like Charles Hayward getting all Incredible Hulk on the band’s ass. Not that the rest of them are cowed. Hacked guitar chords, shredding violin scrapes, and electronically treated bassoon slosh against Pride’s walls of cadence and each other, as agitated as the water in a vigorously shaken fish tank. But even in moments of abandon, this music feels controlled; the improvised solos sound like essential facets of the compositions. This is because Young, like her occasional employer Anthony Braxton, understands that selecting a musician and creating the right opportunity can be a powerful compositional act. - Bill Meyer

(Babysue) If we had not read the press release that accompanied this CD we would have assumed that the folks making the music are part of the bizarre tribe out there in California (the main source of much of the strange modern classical music these days). Pretty Monsters is an unusual quartet for many different reasons. For starters...how many modern groups can you think of that are spearheaded by a bassoon player...? Katherine Young plays bassoon like we've never heard it played before. Joining her in this group are Erica Dicker on violin, Owen Stewart-Robertson on guitar, and Mike Pride on percussion and drums. There's a great deal of spontaneous improvisation going on here...but what is surprising is how listenable these seven tracks are. Improvisation can sometimes result in music that is unlistenable...but that is definitely not the case here. These cool inspired tracks were recorded by folks who are obviously feeding off one another's creative tendencies...and the results are rather hypnotic and bewildering. Very cool in so many different ways... - Don Seven

(Deaf Sparrow) Pretty Monsters is an interesting, eclectic mix of genres within a 'free-jazz' frame that manages to capture most of your attention half of the time, but only some of it the rest of the time. Free-jazz, well, since you're technically talking about improvisation, is going to go where it wants, how it wants, if anywhere. Very few bands, even experienced, can manage to capture the true essence of what 'free' means, simply because it requires a highly intuitive sense of where everyone else is going. If not, it turns into a mess of classical noise that has a 50/50 chance of pleasing the ears or withering them into silence. Luckily, Pretty Monsters have a much better sense of connection than other bands of their ilk. This self-titled release under the interesting label Public Eyesore is in many ways as intricate and jumbled as the image on its cover; both excellent and confusing. Rarely do you see a bassoon for jazz, let alone free-jazz, and the incorporation of violin and guitar breaks a couple more definitions. This may, in fact, be the first time a bassoon has ever appeared in this context. As a whole, Pretty Monsters has a very random, chaotic feel, though occasionally they fall into a more focused form of chaos. One example features a depressing, dark-blues chord progression covered with street beggar violin lines, and some others feature drumming that verges on blast beat for brief moments and doom on the other. Those words are merely being thrown out here for some of you readers who probably don't listen to much of this, so don't let it fool you into thinking you're going to hear Graves at Sea with violin and bassoon. When they have a little substance to their chaos, Pretty Monsters is highly enjoyable, the aforementioned violin/guitar track being the clear winner, providing a wonderful mental canvas on which the listener may paint any picture using their own memories and emotions. That's when this album does it right, and it's highly enjoyable for these aspects. That's most of the album, but at times Pretty Monsters dips a little too far to the side of chaos, where the randomness sounds just plain old random, like an orchestra preparing to actually play, but the members present were a bit early to the rehearsal and felt like messing around. The mixture of styles is awesome, but only when it comes together. Too much chaos, and it sounds like a number of so-called "free-jazz" bands that are nothing more than musicians trying to break with the usual without realizing that that itself is already usual. Strongly Imploded, for example, is one another reviewer took a peek at several months ago. Another aspect likely lost on at least some listeners is the novel usage of some of the instruments. The bassoon, for example, is a welcome mix-up, but most listeners who aren't familiar with its deeper sound are even going to recognize it's a bassoon. Most will probably think "oh, there's a saxophone", because the 'free-jazz' tag has set them up for it. That's because most people don't know the difference. In addition, the song titles mean very little, you could easily mix them around and pair them with whatever musical piece you wanted and it wouldn't make a lick of a difference. However, aside from these issues, which are minor, this self-titled offers quite a nice bite of chaotic, unique variety for the seasoned jazz listener, and with some more clarity Pretty Monsters could do even more in the future. - Stanley Stepanic

(Aiding and Abetting) One of the more fully-realized PE albums I've heard in a while. This is just a quartet, but these improvisations often find an orchestral sweep. Of course, that's probably due to the bassoon-violin-guitar-drums nature of the collaboration. In any case, the atmospherics are stunning. - Jon Worley

(Sound Projector) The great Katherine Young is a member of Architeuthis Walks On Land and Civil War, among others, and she plays the bassoon and composes all the music for Pretty Monsters on this self-titled record (PUBLIC EYESORE 120). I have the impression (see interview in TSP#21) that she likes small ensembles which work with a very judicious combination of instruments, and the instrumentation on offer here – Owen Stewart-Robertson’s guitar, Mike Pride’s drumming and Erica Dicker’s violin – makes for a superbly realised, vibrant and unusual sound. Coherent and ingenious in its dissonances and consonances, there’s not a single note played here that isn’t memorable in some way, well-defined and as three-dimensional as a living painting. The music just leaps off the printed page like a team of wild animals from a picture book, even when the printed page in this case is a compact disc. Young’s other music which I have heard may have veered towards the introspective or the soothing (in a very twisted way, like an old bough curlicued around near a Japanese lake at sunset whose water is slowly turning pink under the sky), but the somewhat rock-music-ified elements here of drumming and electric guitar give Pretty Monster an additional force, transforming the imaginative and unpredictable melodies into even more mind-melting possibilities. By no means an ego-trip for Katherine Young alone, the album gives plenty of space to all the players: Dicker’s violin work on ‘Crushed’ is particularly strong, reaching remarkable heights of controlled frenzy. For fans of the brown, creaky, leathery qualities of the bassoon (a sound which in Katherine’s hands becomes pure flaked tobacco carved in huge ancient chunks), I also recommend ‘For Autonauts, For Travelers’, a cut where that woodwind beast truly burbles and growls in plangent tones, enriched with her unique playing style, and enhanced by electronic treatment. All of this music is just solid enough to eat with a fork and spoon. May I propose that listeners investigate and hear as much of Katherine Young’s music as is humanly possible. Lovely cover art by Rob Patterson. - Ed Pinsent

(Aural Innovations) Pretty Monsters is the New York City based quartet of Katherine Young on bassoon and electronics, Owen Stewart-Robertson on guitar and electronics, Mike Pride on drums and percussion, and Erica Dicker on violin. Together they play an interesting and varied brand of chamber ensemble gone avant-rock. Relief opens the 7 track CD and feels like a pleasant conversation between the bassoon, violin and guitar. The instruments chat lightly via a series of brief melodies and short bursts of bassoon drones, soundscapes, and passionate violin solos, augmented by sparse, light percussion. Things get more aggressive with Patricia Highsmith, which has a chamber ensemble meets James Blood Ulmer feel. The guitar continually alternates between bursts of rocking out and passionately restrained passages, as the bassoon and violin free jazz jam. The drums rock out steadily, and as a whole it’s an intensely plodding succession of energetic bursts and restraint. In fact, after I’d heard this a few times it occurred to me there’s a Blues element to the music, and by the last couples minutes Stewart-Robertson is kicking out some killer solos. Feldspar is a short rocker where the drums lay down a fiery rhythmic pulse which the guitar, bassoon and violin jam along to. All three are soloing wildly and near the end the guitar gets densely metallic, making the whole sound like Henry Cow gone heavy metal. Crushed starts off sounding like a screechy scratchy take on Philip Glass. In fact, this sounded so familiar I checked the credits which say all compositions are by Katherine Young. The core melody has that minimalist Glass sound. But the music gets really interesting later as the violin is screeching madly while the guitar plays a dissonant but pleasant ambient melody, eventually taming the violin into melodic submission. But all does not remain warm and fuzzy as the piece transitions to full blown dense noise electronic mode, before settling into a sound collage finale. Lots of interesting variety on this one. For Autonauts, For Travelers is an avant-chamber ensemble stroll, including adventures into percussion and sound. The 12 minute Deuterium starts slowly and includes some of the most beautifully melodic music of the set. The guitar plays chords that are a dissonant contrast to the heartstring tugging violin, the bassoon provides low end support, and the drums are laid back but feel like they’re going to break out rocking at any moment. This never happens, though in the last few minutes the music briefly switches gears to a more free-wheeling avant-jazz jam, returning to the opening theme for the finale. Finally, Entropy has an intensely theatrical feel, combining chamber ensemble, spaced out atmospherics and effects, powerhouse drum blasts, and freaky avant-Rock. What really grabbed about this album is the configuration of instruments, particularly the use of bassoon and violin in a rock context. I could easily see this being of interest to a variety of audiences but it certainly appealed to the avant-Proghead in me. - Jerry Kranitz

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