Graded on a Curve:
More Klementines,
More Klementines

Featuring Jon Schlesinger on banjo and guitar, Michael Kiefer on drums, and a dude named Steubs on mandolin, guitar, and electronics, More Klementines are far from a typical excursion into rock-rooted improvisation (if standard examples of the form do indeed exist). The self-assessment of the music as a “sort of Appalachian Krautrock” reinforces this, as does the trio’s use of non-standard instrumentation; along with guitar and drums, there’s banjo and mandolin. The results jazzed the participants, and it should also gas lovers of improv, psychedelia, and yes indeed, even roots mavens who like to take it “out.” It’s available October 19 as a co-release from Twin Lakes and Feeding Tube Records.

In its commingling of abstraction and intensity, a lot of hardcore improvisation can strike listeners who’ve thus far subsided on a musical diet of recognizable patterns and progressions (in a nutshell, form) as an arduous experience. After soaking up this eponymous offering of two side-long untitled tracks by the Connecticut-based More Klementines, I feel confident in declaring it a suitable point of entry for the improv-curious as it’s simultaneously poised to offer satisfaction to fans of the heavy-duty stuff.

This is in part because the players are no strangers to free-rock endeavors. Kiefer runs Twin Lakes, a label that’s activity might register as modestly underground, that is, until ya’ stumble upon Michael Beach’s Golden Theft, which stands as one of the best, and most slept-upon, riffs-and-songs rock records of this decade, but he’s also the drum half of the free-rock duo Rivener, whose releases on Twin Lakes have brought pleasure to many ears with a predilection for rock expansiveness.

Additionally, Kiefer was (or perhaps more accurately, is) the drummer for the more song-based Twin Lakes outfit No Line North, which included the multi-tasking Schlesinger. To complete the background in More Klementines’ liner description of “a sort of long overdue conversation between friends,” there was (is) Myty Konkeror, a notably heavy but meditative beast which began life as the team of Kiefer and Steubs (with his Flying V) plus loops. That is, until it was decided that something extra was needed. Enter Schlesinger on lap steel.

Familiarity isn’t a prerequisite in improv situations, though some level of knowledge between the players is the more common avenue taken. More Klementines have knowledge to spare. Along with Rivener’s output, the record also documents movement into freer territory after a period of individual and collective growth from within rock’s u-ground fringe.

Those short but useful liners explain how the three avoid riffs, songs or a “planned approach” here, which doesn’t mean there aren’t elements of structure to grasp onto. The band’s mention of Krautrock underlines this, but almost immediately, as side one springs to life (with the sounds already in motion), Kiefer’s drumming works up a platform from which his cohorts launch into exploration; in under three minutes, the guitar crescendos are prominent.

While an inclination for improv on the part of the listener isn’t a prerequisite in relation to this LP, I’d say a love of the psychedelia is pretty much a must. The stated ties to the Germanic do emerge as extant, but my initial impression as side one unwound was generally psych in nature, and more specifically like a sorta extension-fulfillment of the achievements and promise exhibited by explorers of the late ’60s (from the ballrooms of San Fran to the fields and halls of the UK and Europe) before so many of them retreated (and often regressed) into soul-R&B, hard rock, country or folk.

So, here’s a good place to add that More Klementines’ use of banjo (a core instrument in the sound of Appalachia) and mandolin (which holds something like the same importance in bluegrass) isn’t a premeditated stab at roots flavor; hell, Schlesinger’s plucking doesn’t even come to the fore until deep into the latter portion of side one. Instead, to reference a review of Rivener’s Svengali Gaze by Byron Coley (who’s half of Feeding Tube’s reality), it seems a way to conjure the exotic (and without heading into Eastern regions).

This aspect is tangible in the aforementioned banjo excursion, and also in Steubs’ mandolin at the start of side two, where it’s offset with some downright pretty guitar patterns from Schlesinger (which do return later) as Kiefer seizes the opportunity for abstraction. Not that he’s chained to structure on the first track; to the contrary, the out-jazziness of his “solo” at around the 13-minute mark of side one is an absolute joy to hear.

Just as crucial as the non-trad instrumentation in More Klementines’ attack is the use of pedals in the whipping-up of great clouds of atmosphere. But also, on side one they aid in a massive (if brief) psych-guitar freakout that transpires just ahead of Kiefer’s dive into free stickwork. There’s also some fine slide-like wildness on the flip, but on that side the pedals assist in broadening and sharpening to ultimately bring forth passages that at times can sound a little like Popol Vuh, Amon Düül, and Milford Graves traveling down a river in Fitzcarraldo’s boat.

But only a little. Mostly, More Klementines just registers as three guys who know each other well coming together and doing their free-rock thing. And edited slightly to fit onto vinyl (from a 90-minute pool of material), a fine, quite digestible, but vigorous slab of free-rock this is. Let’s hope they offer more from this meeting, or if not, then just get back into the same room to do it again soon.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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