Perhaps more than anything else, 75 Dollar Bill thrives in the fundamental joy of amplification. Simple, and at times, rudimentary sound sources that map out their world of patterned interlocking sonic elements. Sound generated via Rick Brown’s plywood crate, hand and foot percussion and crude horns into a sumptuous heaving carpet of joy. Add in Che Chen’s chewed up, rough edged, droning guitars and yet more percussion and you have the basis for something quite special. Given that both have featured in a number of bands and projects over the years, and certainly a substantial time in recording studios, it’s clear this project is one that finds delight in squeezing amazing and surprising sounds out what feels like not very much. A creative brief to scrub out everything other than the very essence of sound and structure. Then through the magic of amplification, recording and the precision of the players, we have a collection that explores the very heart of music…
I Was Real, over the course of 9 tracks and almost 80 minutes, is a stunning grouping of the duo finally taking flight. For me, whilst Wooden Bag (2015) and Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock (2017) were engaging listens, things only really spectacularly fried my brain in their self-released Like Like Laundry. That track lasts a shade under a huge 34 minutes and perfectly showcases how a locked in groove could be metronomic, hugely varied and hypnotic all at the same time.
I Was Real throws the listener straight into an already aligning rhythmic cluster with the opening Every Last Coffee Or Tea. Joined by a rotating cast of players, bass, contrabass and viola, the opening 2 and a half minutes expand and contract. The guitar and drums are following by a spine tingling sax groove. This, in a heartbeat is the most exotically infused Terry Riley / Tony Conrad glory. Music that floors you based on the lightness of touch and the ability to place sounds so accurately in these wild sun-beamed patterns. This is staggeringly beautiful, and I suggest anyone passing this way to offer themselves fully to this 11-minute masterpiece. Music that transcends all the potential hang ups we may have around improv, acoustic instrumentation or simply music that’s as much to do with its mathematical structure as soul…
The press information supplied with this release has Brown talking candidly about the structure of the music as highly creative dealings in modes, harmonics and rhythms. Whilst it might seem a cold exercise in mapping out musical data, the end result glows with a very human warmth.
Given the mind-blowing opener, the album pans out into a series of tapestry like drifts. C.OR T Verso is a studio mangled reworking of the opening track into a satisfying floating aftermath. Tetuzi Akiyama, a loving homage to the wonderful Japanese guitarist, himself very similarly squeezing so much juice out of seemingly basic set ups. Coloured with brass, and underpinned with a spiralling guitar line, its dense 4 minutes feels like the lead single from another reality.
The title track I Was Real fills a huge unhurried 17 minutes with a repeating slowly corroding wave. Over time the texture engulfs as a wailing undercurrent grows. Then almost 4 minutes from the end, the music microscopically slows and unravels. Each second the brake is gently pushed harder as silence seeps around gaps in the pattern. Brown notes that playing live, the idea with this track was to slowly reveal other sounds in the space. The recorded version plots a similar descent to ambience.
There’s No Such Thing As A King Bee is apparently a rebuked to Slim Harpos factually inaccurate I’m A King Bee. Built out a mash up of Moondog, gamelan and a Country Joe And The Fish jam, it superbly ties itself in kosmic knots.
Elsewhere WZN3 – Verso, I. New New II.The Worm III. Like Laundry, WZN4 and WZN3 complete the track list under unwieldy functional labelling that be belies their groovy precised patterning. Taken as a full listen through its entire 80-minute span, I Was Real dips in and out of your consciousness. Islands of density in channels of space, all falling into the unforgettable wake of the initial mental explosion of Every Last Coffee Or Tea.
Perhaps informed by many images of the group I’ve seen; I keep coming back to a mental picture of 75 Dollar Bill being most at home on the pavement. Set up on some dirty street corner birthing newly forming diamonds out of the rubbish. 75 Dollar Bill, with I Was Real have created one of the most perplexing, immersive and best listens to come our way in quite some time. Music that reveals a bottomless pit of new edges every single time you listen.
I Was Real is available to pre-order here and released on June 28