With cover art that pays homage to Cecil Taylor’s fractured 1966 Blue Note opus, Unit Structures – possibly the most extreme album the label ever released, Will Guthrie has returned with an album that is simultaneously stranger yet more accessible than Taylor’s incendiary exercise in free jazz.
It’s kitchen sink music, where the Australian born France based percussionist takes liberally from everywhere, a musique concrete soundscape of thin electrics and, amplified percussion, kit, strange, at times musical samples – even police interrogation tapes. Drones pierce, sirens sound, all manner of sonic debris is twisted squashed and manipulated into the composition as the percussion builds, into an onslaught of ragged timbres. There’s a lot going on and it’s not for the faint of heart.
Guthrie’s previous album, 2015’s Sacrée Obsession (Ideal) was much more subdued, and very much about the kit. With People Pleaser he’s opened it up to everything else. Recent youtube clips have highlighted Guthrie’s move from amplified junk percussion onto what could almost be referred to as prepared kit and People Pleaser feels like an amalgamation of all of the above.
Whilst it’s a percussive and electronic album, the electrics don’t sound like anything else around with not only varying textures and quality, but also a certain uncontrolled feeling, as if they’ve been born out of the resonance of Guthrie’s percussive hits and could explode into feedback at any moment. Then there’s the manipulations, the mic handling, the abrupt musique concrete cuts, the shimmering low quality samples, often augmented by a burst of percussion, gongs or glockenspiel. At times it feels like Guthrie is manipulating a Walkman, forwarding and rewinding the tape, then flicking it over to a slightly off channel AM Radio and building up the static or abruptly changing the station (to another slightly off channel setting). All of which he will regularly play percussion along to, creating a peculiar forward propulsion through the madness.
There’s no mistaking that People Pleaser is a peculiar album, it’s a mass of contradictions, there’s a roughness and sense of danger imbued in it that makes you feel that there could be no author, that this is not a piece of art, it’s just an uncontrolled collage of sound that you just happened upon. Yet it’s also such an amazing, schizophrenic collision of sound, practices and techniques that we can only assume that this is what the inside of Guthrie’s brain must sound like. There’s genius here in his ability to organise the diverse sounds and textures and craft a path through them, yet also in the musicalness of the weirdness. There’s something really performative about this album. It’s one of the most live (and alive), perhaps even rocking musiqe concrete albums you will ever hear.