Listening to People Pleaser, the new album by Will Guthrie, is a whirlwind journey through a host of textures, samples, live playing, and sonic debris.
This 30-minute collage makes me think of those ransom notes you see in old ’70s crime films. The message is created from letters cut from their surroundings and arranged to create a new meaning.
It’s a way of manipulating and repositioning existing material. Despite the fact it’s made up of unrelated elements, they connect together to create a new linear experience.
The word “collage” comes from the French word coller: to glue. This album scalpels out sound fragments and glues them together. Like the ransom note, sounds are removed from their original context, liberating them. The result is pure blocks of sonic building material.
Guthrie also happens to be an incredible drummer. The drum kit is seldom exposed so clearly on other records, but is universally understood to be a marvelous instrument to build over. It’s the backbone of every band.
The type of drumming Guthrie specializes in throughout this disc is cluttered, rolling, and jazz-tinged. In parts, it traces around hip hop and Squarepusher-style funk as well. The drumming underpins the album and explodes through various sections. Growing out of wailing alarms, bursts of noise, subtle electronics, field recordings, snatches of conversation, telephone and TV chatter.
Despite possibly suggesting some vague narrative arc, the only story here is one of joyful displacement.
As is always the case, the artwork by Stephen O’Malley and song titles do throw light on how this album could be interpreted. The day-glo Warhol-like portraits arranged in a grid suggest the duplication and modification of the material, in this case, the musician himself, endlessly.
That every title, such as EasyLay or SignLanguage, highlights the space between words by removing them only shows the importance of the connections and edges between parts littered across this recording.
Many listeners will no doubt gravitate toward one section or another. This is an experience of texture, sound, and variety. Any part is in isolation is fully representative of the strategy at work. The biggest instrument at play here is contrast.
After 11 minutes Side A, the sound seems to lock into a meta-version of early Soft Machine We did It Again, then some sampled TV sounds; buzzing, droney electronics, and then from nowhere, a beautiful choral sample that feels like Fenn O’ Berg Theme, but from within a fusebox on the wall.
Side B starts with a thunderous hundred-mile-an-hour drumrolls and layers of feedback all over it, ghosts of Gaseneta, Brise-Glase, and Pluramon overlaid on tracing paper. It’s wild music, but not remotely confrontational.
What’s really impressive about this album is how Guthrie welcomes you into this soundworld. The more it progresses, the easier it become to hear sounds as sounds.
This album initially suggests some hard work for the listener over its short 30-minute lifespan. However, it’s become something I’ve returned to numerous times, with each listen opening up more and more. Despite its prickly outward textures, People Pleaser, oddly, is just that… and some sort of wonderful triumph.
Review orginally appeared in Brown Noise Unit March 2017