If asked to think of contemporary music coming out of Vienna, many would probably call to mind Pita, Fennesz and the other past and present denizens of the Mego label. But there’s another loose network of artists working in the city these days, less heralded but more numerous and, for my money, more sonically diverse and interesting. Active since the beginning of the 2000s, they operate at the intersection of avant rock, noise, free jazz and improv, often collaborating with each other both live and on record to create a warm, eclectic and beguiling sound. Some of the key players in this scene are guitarist Martin Siewert (Trapist, Heaven And), drummer Martin Brandlmayer (Radian, Trapist), keyboardist Philipp Quehenberger, turntablist dieb13, drummer Didi Kern (Bulbul, Broken Heart Collector), reedist Susanna Gartmayer and guitarist Eric Arn, whose group Primordial Undermind have put out a wonderful slice of psychedelic rock in Last Worldly Bond.
Having weathered numerous changes of line-up, label and hometown over the years, PU have been stationed in the Austrian capital since 2004. This is their seventh album overall, but their first since Arn relocated to Europe and put together a new line-up of the group. It was recorded in front of a live audience at the Vienna studios of Christoph Amann, one of the city’s leading sound engineers. No overdubs, though, and no applause – this is what happened between the five musicians on the night.
The record is an inspired collision between Arn’s kaleidoscopic guitar and the ecstatic currents of cellist Meaghan Burke, bolstered by Lukas Schöller’s whizzy analogue effects and the endless shapeshifting of the rhythm section. “I Am Afraid Of You” draws the listener in from the get-go with its improvised drones and scrapings, but things really start to heat up with the superb “Time Being”. Kicking off with a striking six-note riff, Burke’s grinding cello saws into your skull while Arn solos with diamond-like precision. The track becomes increasingly unhinged and airborne, as if clambering free from the worldly bond of the album’s title.
The title of the next tune, “Wer Tauben Füttert, Füttert Ratten”, translates as “who feeds pigeons, feeds rats” – a phrase that can be seen on signs around Vienna, warning of the unhygienic consequences of throwing bread and other morsels to the pushy grey fellows. The track itself is a sprawling dash through territory that moves from pastoral to spiky and hazardous, thanks to the skittering pulse of Arn’s guitar and David Schweighart’s frenzied percussion. The relatively placid “Never At A Loss”, meanwhile, sees Arn adding understated vocals to his twangy Byrdsian fretwork.
Even when the group are at their most restrained, though, there’s an underlying tautness to the music which never takes long to snap. The miraculous cello playing of Meaghan Burke is key to this mood of sustained tension and release. Weaving restlessly around Arn’s luminous riffing, every pass of her bow brings on another giddy and delirious moment. Nowhere is this more evident than on the album’s extraordinary closing piece “Not An Atom That I Can’t Feel”, a 14-minute maelstrom of noise that will almost certainly cause your body to levitate high into the air, such is its psychedelic ability to induce altered trancelike states in the listener. It’s a magical end to an utterly thrilling record. Edition of 500 copies on vinyl only.
(Originally published in The Sound Projector 20, 2011)