Reviews

Peter Hammill & Gary LucasPeter Hammill & Gary Lucas
Album: Other World
Label: Esoteric Antenna
Tracks: 14
Website: http://www.esotericrecordings.com

An intriguing prospect this - on the most superficial level it's an (unlikely?) collaboration between a legendary artist and a long-time fan, but when the two protagonists are identified as the visionary Van Der Graaf Generator founder and the avant-blues guitarist formerly of Beefheart's Magic Band and erstwhile writing partner of Jeff Buckley, the resultant project might be thought even more daring.

As it turns out, Other World is an intense, and intensely-realised, meeting of minds that - unbelievably - wasn't even mooted or formally essayed prior to the two musicians' discovery of a mutual wavelength following a VDGG reunion concert in 2005; a subsequent reconnection that led to Lucas visiting Hammill's studio in 2012 to just work on some ideas. There's a pronounced empathy between the two musicians' ostensibly disparate playing styles, with the progressive and experimental meeting the virtuoso more than half-way and via the emotional, each taking the other into a different, "other" world yet preserving and maintaining the best of both worlds - the contemporary songwriting and the inventive soundscaping: the latter world, of course, is one that Hammill himself has been pursuing tentatively to some extent ever since 1979 (with albums like PH7 and A Black Box). Since which time, it might be tempting to generalise a bit, that Hammill's albums have tended to fall into one or other category (Thin Air and Sonix being kind-of polar extremes, let's say); so it feels that Lucas' presence and musical ideas have served as a prime catalyst for the present-day realisation of a more creative melding of the two strands.

The album's sequence thus intersperses tracks built around "straightly" sung or part-declaimed vocal delivery with tracks that are deceptively fluid-sounding instrumental tracks in the shape of "aural escapades". The eight songs embrace those with archetypally significant, sometimes somewhat elliptical Hammill lyrics (Of Kith And Kin, Spinning Coins and The Kid) through to altogether more caustic utterances like This Is Showbiz, which mightn't have been considered out of place on the early Hammill solo venture Nadir's Big Chance, and the riff-driven Cash. Using just Hammill's distinctive vox backed by guitars, albeit treated, looped and enhanced, the result is surprisingly effective (and, though stark, not exactly minimalist). Of the six purely instrumental adventures, some (Built From Scratch, Attar Of Roses, Glass) have the air of depictive tone-poems, mood pieces almost, that approach the world of movie soundtrack, while others (like the finale Slippery Slope) have more kinship with ambient. Lucas' limpid guitar embellishments and interventions prove stimulating, and his anguished expressionist voicings really do complement the sometimes abrasive guitaristic manœuvres of Hammill (as on Means To An End). Trading ideas proves most productive, and the worlds collide (and collude) most satisfyingly perhaps on the sinister warning of Black Ice, the disturbing and sublimely eerie Some Kind Of Fracas and the pithy ballad Two Views, on which Lucas sketches weird guitar shapes and patterns around Hammill's intransigent, uncompromising truths. Although opening track Spinning Coins is arguably one of the album's least adventurous or most conventional (musically speaking), its lyric acts almost as a metaphor for the whole exercise, the outcome of randomness that sparked this collaboration into being - but it has turned out an artistic triumph, of that there's no doubt.

David Kidman