Performance * * * * *
Sound Quality * * * * *
Whether it’s the electric guitar brain-melt of 1987’s Exploded View or the more open acoustic guitar designs of Big Map Idea, Steve Tibbetts always plays with intensity. He rips your face off with electric guitars that bend and slur like a Dali painting projected onto funhouse mirrors and approaches the acoustic guitar as if he’s strumming the spokes of a warped bicycle wheel. Skewed, Derek Bailey-style picking alternates with a folklike melodicism.
The Fall of Us All doesn’t extend the Tibbetts paradigm. Most of his music is still based around loops of one sort or another: usually either samples and tapes or soulmate Marc Anderson’s percussion. Anderson’s pan-global tribal rhythms shift and shimmy like an erotic dancer lost in Africa.
Add some wordless wails from Claudia Schmidt and you’ve got an album that bristles with energy and a lot of anger. Tibbetts sounds like he’s fighting his instrument at times, trying to wrench from it some deep seated pain. Moments of primal violence and confusion emerge in aptly titled songs like “Dzogchen Punks,” “Hellbound Train,” and “Burnt Offering.” But these are set against expanses of contemplation and gorgeous melodicism like the gamelan cycles of “Travel Alone,” a peaceful conclusion to an album which, if it were a diary, would provide some frightening and exhilarating reading.
Most pop music squanders its rhythmic energy, hoping only to entrance the listener through simple repetition. As a result, it might take a few listens to appreciate the full power of an album such as “The Fall of Us All.” Even though the music here is profoundly percussive, Steve Tibbetts and his band go beyond the obvious regularity of the beat to emphasize its ebb and flow. Moreover, because the music draws from Indian, Arabic and Javanese elements in addition to the more familiar African and American elements, the listener can enjoy a wider range of rhythmic intensity without feeling battered by the beat. But the best thing about “The Fall of Us All” is the astonishing fluidity of Tibbetts’ guitar work, which can be as percussive as a tabla pattern or as liquid and lyrical as a Hendrix solo.