When guitarists Elliot Sharp and Scott Fields get together, they don’t seem to have any interest in making things easier. Their latest album Akra Kampoj continues their experiment, forsaking traditional structures and sounds for something more questing. Across these eight tracks (four composed by each artist), the duo flit and twitter through tonal experiments, looking more at textures and sounds that can be dragged from electric guitars than anything else.
Much of the album follows the argument set forth by opener “Bagsant”, even if it’s rhythmically steadier than much of what follows. Sharp and Fields use sharp skritches to build up their atmosphere and then to move through it, hinting at but never accepting a groove. In a sense, the play with time and subtle change speaks to an affected version of minimalism, except the guitarists provide an ever persistent presence in their playing, occasionally in technical runs or in surprising feints at song.
The playing could easily be lost in the ether (“Bagsant” might stick around too long), but the players’ abstractions find roosts across the album. Sharp’s “Pingo” provides the first grounding point. The duo delivers a thicker sound, with hints of noise-rock that almost become something more tangible. Where much of the album skitters, this one grinds – it’s the machine in the ghost.
“Denisova Stomp” also puts sand on the ice. While it retains the duo’s sense of reach, there are brief moments that loosely connect to more traditional sounds. There’s a mid-piece thrust at krautrock, but Sharp and Fields remain unwilling to resolve it into a groove. Likewise, there’s tense fuzz that sounds like an intro, but instead of collapsing into a 1970s anthem, it turns itself around into a dissipation.
Outside of those few moments, the album mostly relies on quick, nervous guitar work (with built-in breathing space). While the music scuttles forward, there’s an urgency to it. There’s little to no linearity to the compositions, yet they push forward. The album coheres around a general aesthetic more than a sequencing, but the pieces do follow their explorations from “Bagsant” through a proper closing with “Transester”. That closing number holds up steady tones, signifying the closure to come. The piece is as busy at its predecessors, but less frantic, allowing a sort of calm release as it settles at the finish.
Akra Kampoj is, not surprisingly, another heady album, with its rewards hidden among scattering guitar sounds. If it feints at songs and riffs, the misdirection adds to the pleasures, which aren’t carelessly found, but grow out of shifting tonalities and sonic challenges. — Dusted