Radboud Mens & Dan Armstrong – Fitness Landscape
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Radboud Mens and Dan Armstrong have been collaborating together live for more than twelve years, yet ‘Fitness Landscape’ is their first album together, and it too is essentially a collection of live takes recorded both in performance and in the studio. The CD liner notes describe the music as simply “live guitar”, yet the sonic palette of the traditional six-string has been radically extended using a range of effects and techniques, as the first track ‘Provisional Friction (a_black)’ quickly demonstrates. Layered on top of more recognisably guitar-derived sounds are all manner of noises, clicks, atmospheres and tones. Yet right at the end of the track, a surprise: a few quiet, dirty chords of a blues riff. This turns out to be a recurring theme throughout the album, and perhaps its most interesting feature – a vastly expanded sonic vocabulary, juxtaposed and combined with some of the modern electric guitar’s first distinct words, direct and unabashed.
‘South Luangwa (b_blue)’ takes standard blues harmonies and grinds them through a cheese grater, producing scattered, skitterish waves of detritus. The plodding bassline and lazy looped guitar lick of ‘Surrogate City (h_brown)’ slide across each other like two tectonic plates, heading in different directions and at different speeds, producing all kinds of scrapes and bumps as they rub against one another. Structure is another way in which ‘Fitness Landscapes’ points back to a blues heritage, with each track built around simple patterns that repeat ad infinitum, though this is likely more a result of the live working process than a conscious nod to the 12-bar chord progression.
If anything, it is this constant resort to a familiar layered, looping structure that is the album’s weak point – more variety and invention in the ways different loops and riffs are played off against one another wouldn’t have gone amiss. Still, the album’s double exposure of familiar harmonic and melodic forms on top of more experimental and challenging sounds makes for an intriguing listen, and is sure to please those seeking sonic adventures while wishing their guitars to sound, well, like guitars. ‘Fitness Landscape’ is released on Armstrong’s Takashi Mobile label, and can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or via Korm Plastics.
- Nathan Thomas for Fluid Radio