Reviews:


Alex Temple    21-August-2002 Hunger's Teeth

Hunger's Teeth is probably the best place to start for a symphonic prog fan trying to get into RIO. This is not to say that the album sounds much like symphonic prog, which would be very surprising given drummer and composer Dave Kerman's distaste for the genre. There are a few reference points in common, though.

I'm not the first to suggest this album as an introduction to RIO for the symphonic prog fan. The suggestion is made constantly on rec.music.progressive, usually accompanied by a reference to vocalist Bob Drake, and how much he sounds like Jon Anderson of Yes. Personally, I don't hear the similarity nearly as much here as I do on his solo album What Day Is It?. The two singers might have similar ranges, but they only sound the same on occasion; Yes fans might hear something familiar in the more stripped down, melodic sections of "Geronimo," or the opening of "Opportunity Bangs," but Anderson wouldn't be caught dead singing the way Drake does at the end of "Well... Not Chickenshit" (nasal and pinched) or "Glue" (distorted and out of tune).

For me, what makes Hunger's Teeth a good starting point is simply that it's fairly accessible, but without sacrificing any of the juicy stuff that makes RIO fun. While many of the original RIO bands wrote extended instrumental compositions, these are really rock songs, with only one exceeding six minutes in length. They are generally vocal-oriented (but not lyric-oriented, which is good, because Kerman's lyrics leave something to be desired), and most have passages of relative consonance amid the noise and atonality. Many of the tunes are more chromatically modal than they are truly atonal anyway. Certain familiar textures from symphonic prog show up occasionally, like the digital piano figurations in "Well... Not Chickenshit," the almost lush textures at the end of "Roan," and the almost satirical use of that symph clichi, the Heavily Accented Chord, on the word "offspring" in "Opportunity Bangs." As those of you who have read my profile know, I'm not much of a symph fan, so the fact that I love this album is a testament to the fact that these elements are not overdone, and probably not even intentional.

Actually, it is the interplay between accessibility and inaccessibility that makes this album really interesting. While most of the songs are quite likable at first listen (assuming you're used to highly chromatic, dissonant music), they don't fall into the trap of being overly clear, which means that it takes many listens to uncover everything that's going on in the music. Many songs contrast downright pretty passages with all-out noise-fests; the most obvious example is "Geronimo," which ranges from a subtle combination of quiet vocals, percussion and electronic organ to total polyrhythmic chaos. "Truth, Justice and the American Way," too, precedes the rhythmically displaced but fairly tuneful rock of its final section with something that can only be described as an extremely nasal, atonal Beach Boys with digital keyboards.

These contrasts are really the result of the spirit of playful experimentation that pervades the whole album. Sometimes the band just seems to be trying things out, resulting in something like Drake's barbershop song about barbers, "The Shears," and a short minimalist electronic piece by Thomas DiMuzio called "Mangate." This willingness to try a lot of different things gives Hunger's Teeth a wonderful textural variety, unlike the other album from the Kerman/Kumar/Drake lineup of the 5uu's, 1997's Crisis in Clay. At the same time, Kerman's compositional style is very distinctive, so it holds together nicely, even when Susanne Lewis takes over to sing the last two songs. Her style, much less emotional than Drake's, fits perfectly on top of the dissonant rock-out of "Traveler Waits for No One," and the album goes out with a bang.




Eric Lumbleau    15-July-2001 Crisis in Clay

Not reading off the same page perused by disciples of indie rock, a particular wing of the American underground emerged in the mid 80s that instead took their pointers from the far flung fringes of the European avant progressive scene. The strata of groups that fell under the dubious sounding banner Rock In Opposition, namely radical oddballs like Henry Cow, Art Bears or Samla Mammas Manna provided the impetus for both the 5uu's and a handful of other interrelated units like Thinking Plague or The Motor Totemist Guild to initiate what now amounts to one of the more rewarding strands of American music extant.

Lacerating, contorted and claustrophobic, Crisis in Clay bristles with the jagged lyricism that has been a hallmark of the group since their inception in the mid 80s. Never before though, have they deployed it with such diabolical relentlessness or ferocity. Henry Cow interpreting Yes's "Gates Of Delirium" with Conny Plank turning the knobs wouldn't result in anything half as genre fucking as this. Bassist/vocalist/producer Bob Drake's elaborately knotted vocal arrangements alone would be enough to give Derek Shulman of Gentle Giant a nosebleed. His extremely unorthodox production techniques render the proceedings alternately vast and suffocating, vivid and viscous, yanking you when you least expect it from alienation to revelation through a systematic assault on your equilibrium.

Propelled by the idiosyncratic virtuoso drum skills of Dave Kerman, this highly demanding, audacious and acid damaged musical riddle deserves a response from anyone professing to support adventurous music.

(Originally published in Alternative Press #121, p.95; reprinted by permission)




Eric Lumbleau    13-July-2001 Dave Kerman / 5UU's - Regarding Purgatories

Where do you go when critical mass has been reached? Like few albums before or since, 5uu's last outing, the harrowing, suffocating avant-prog tour-de-force Crisis In Clay truly gave me "the fear". With this 50-minute treatise on clawing your way out of the bowels of acid hell, bassist/vocalist and malevolently mindfucking producer Bob Drake (a member since 1993's Hunger's Teeth) succeeded in pushing this trope to such sick ungodly extremes, he all but usurped the reigns of this band from idiosyncratic powerhouse drum whiz Dave Kerman, whose brainchild the 5uu's were from the get-go. Kerman may have been writing the material, but Drake's mad production machinations were swamping everything. Their parting company smacks of inevitability.

Now firmly back in the driver's seat, Kerman here assumes the mantle of multi-instrumentalist, shunting his co-conspirators (including Present bassist Keith Macksoud and Thinking Plague vocalist Deborah Perry) off to a session musician sideline and the results are mesmerizing (if not necessarily terrifying). Kerman is still the unsung shaman of unbridled convolution he's always been, weaving thorny, knotted minor-key keyboard lines through thickets of fractured rhythmic figures, bowel clearing bass, obtuse, inwardly folding guitar scales and elliptical vocal arrangements, and generally rupturing and re-organizing spatial dynamics at will. The influence of the down-in-the-mouth wing of the Rock-In-Opposition scene from Western Culture-era Henry Cow to Heatwave-era Univers Zero is particularly overt, especially now that Drake's Yes-possessed-by-demons vibe went out the door along with his Jon Anderson-like vocals.

Crisis In Clay raised the avant-prog bar to vertiginous heights. If Regarding Purgatories isn't quite breathing that rarefied air, it's still perched on a precipice high enough to make the majority of musicians appear the size of ants.

(Originally published in Alternative Press #147, p.97; reprinted by permission)




Peter Thelen    3-July-2001 Hunger's Teeth

Ever wonder what some of the classic progressive bands would sound like today had they maintained their edge and not grown lazy and comfortable and become caricatures of themselves ? Enter the 5UU's. Take the experimental rock spirit, add some influences in varying combinations from Henry Cow, Frank Zappa, Yes, The Beatles and Gentle Giant, mix it all together and send it into overdrive, and you might have some idea of where these guys are going. Their music is a constantly changing stream of ideas, very complex, with irregular time sigs and liberal use of disonnance within their melodic framework - yet it's all fairly accessible too, tied together by Bob Drake's Jon Anderson-like vocals. Even those already familiar with the band on their early releases Bel Marduk & Tiamat and Elements may be in for a surprise here as well, as this is a major step forward for them.

A trio of Sanjay Kumar (keys), David Kerman (drums,guitar,keys) and Bob Drake (vocals,bass,guitars,violin), Thomas DiMuzio is also credited with "electronic and computer generated sounds" and is responsible for some of the more experimental moments on the disc. Kumar and Kerman were both members of previous 5UU's incarnations, as well as U-Totem, and Drake was a member of Thinking Plague and Hail. Guesting on selected tracks are Suzanne Lewis (also of TP and Hail), James Grigsby (of U-Totem), and Michelle Bos. If you've ever wanted one disc that you could listen to over and over, and discover something new each time, this is it ! From the first notes of "Well, Not Chickenshit," through the experimental voice treatments on "Mangate," the mysterious cadence in "Geronimo," an out-of-place barber shop quartet on "The Shears," the Zappa-esque opening riff of "Bachelor Needle," Suzanne's vocal on "Equus," right out to the twisted and abrupt ending of "Traveler Waits For No One," this is an album that will demand repeated listenings. Hunger's Teeth gets my highest recommendation, and will definitely be among my top ten for 1994.

(Originally published in Exposť # 4, p. 17, Edited for Gnosis 7/1/01)



Mike McLatchey    17-April-2001 Hunger's Teeth

5UU's - Hunger's Teeth (R,R 5uu1, 1994, CD)

Here's a really unexpected surprise. The 5UU's used to be the epitome of overlyrical RIO mediocrity, a quirky semi-political group influenced by the Henry Cow/Art Bears sphere. While their albums weren't bad, neither were they very interesting until they combined with the Motor Totemist Guild as U Totem. Still, even that band couldn't have hinted at the 5UU's newest release in years. It's about a 75-25 mix of RIO-influenced avant rock to progressive rock, and a very original one at that. As it really can't be described as a whole, other than as an amalgam of many styles, all I can do is pull out some pieces - most will notice the high tenor vocalizing that sounds uncannily like Jon Anderson (yet in no way approaching his nauseating fluffiness); the rock parts have a rough similarity to some of Samla/Zamla's music, Miriodor, or of course the Art Bears (staggered and almost weird just to be weird); there's an unusual collage piece similar to Steve Moore's work; and even a barbershop quartet that seems fairly out of place; and the lyrics can be quite cutting and poignant. While the overall effect isn't as smooth as many would like, it certainly is one of the most unique and startling albums in a long time - original, vibrant, and cutting edge. This comes highly recommended to RIO fanatics and those wanting something a bit different from the usual fare.

(Originally published in Exposť #4, p. 28, Edited for Gnosis 4/15/01)




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