Graded on a Curve: Alexander Tucker,
Guild of the Asbestos Weaver

A native of Kent, England, Alexander Tucker’s musical roots span back to hardcore in the 1990s, but he’s come to prominence through the interweaving of drone, electroacoustic elements, psychedelia, post-industrial ambiance and honest-to-goodness songs. Tucker’s latest solo effort (he’s also part of Grumbling Fur) is Guild of the Asbestos Weaver, his eighth full-length and the fourth to be released by Thrill Jockey. Offering five expansive tracks and a “classic” album runtime, the contents blend focused experimentation and trad tunesmithing to a result that’s as inviting as it is edgy. It’s out on vinyl, compact disc, and digital August 23.

The title of Alexander Tucker’s new record derives from the underground opposition in Ray Bradbury’s dystopian science-fiction classic Fahrenheit 451, a borrowing that’s representative of the artist’s stated desire to combine his longstanding interest in sci-fi and “cosmic horror” (from comic art, filmic and literary forms) with minimalism, drone and dream music.

To elaborate on that last style, it’s not dream-pop Tucker is tapping into but rather, explicitly stated, the “Dreamweapon” modus operandi of Angus MacLise, a legendary 1960s NYC-based percussionist-composer who was part of La Monte Young’s groundbreaking drone endeavor the Theater of Eternal Music. MacLise died in 1979, and it took roughly two decades for recordings (both under his own name and as a part of Young’s group) to become commercially available.

Still, MacLise’s biggest claim to “fame” (notably a goal he never strived for) is as an inaugural member of the Velvet Underground; that no recordings featuring his contribution survive from this era only adds to his mythic stature. As mentioned above, the impact of MacLise’s aesthetic on Guild of the Asbestos Weaver is right there in Thrill Jockey’s promo text, and it’s worth expanding upon due to Tucker’s similarity, both vocally and compositionally, to MacLise’s associate John Cale.

This likeness emerges straight away in opener “Energy Alphas,” which is mildly reminiscent of Paris 1919, but with reverberating low tones that conjure thoughts of Cale creatively partnering with SunO))). That Tucker has indeed collaborated with Stephen O’Malley both in a co-billed duo and as part of O’Malley’s Ginnungagap project reinforces the SunO))) namecheck, though it should be emphasized that “Energy Alphas” isn’t doomy, it just has a persistent gutty rumbling.

The track is quite poppy in fact, but cerebrally so (befitting the comparison to Cale). While the next cut “Artificial Origin” begins in a booming-echoing symphonic post-industrial zone, as Tucker’s vocals emerge there is a decided anthemic (if not necessarily catchy) quality that persists in evoking the Anglo ’80s. Ears attuned to such acts as Echo and the Bunnymen and Talk Talk could easily appreciate the grand lyrical-vocal sweep. The instrumental layering, which undergoes a structural shift just shy of six minutes in, builds to a powerful conclusion that helps to set Tucker’s work apart.

The recurring use of cello only reinforces the similarity to Cale, the instrument an integral part of “Artificial Origin” and just as vital to “Montag,” which begins by blending an even deeper-heavier symphonic approach with synthetic rhythms that mildly recall the work of Craig Leon. As the song unwinds, Tucker’s avant-pop bona fides shine through as the layering suggests Eno’s pre-ambient song-based solo work.

This is an unambiguous plus, and so is how “Precog” winds to life in a manner recollecting “Stop This Train (Again Doing It)” from Kevin Ayers’ terrific debut solo record from ’69 Joy of a Toy, though that’s really where the similarity ends. And it may seem like a lot of comparisons are getting thrown into the mix here, but Tucker’s work is never a hodgepodge and if he brings a whole bunch of stuff (again, high quality stuff) to mind, he’s in disciplined pursuit of his own thing and consistently eschewing the imitative.

By the end of “Precog,” any thoughts over Tucker’s influences have taken a back seat, and in closer “Cryonic” he continues to expand the template as the string-based foundation elevates into the neighborhood of lushness in tandem with a swirling re-sampled vocal motif that’s distinct in the context of the record, largely because it eludes an emphasis on lyrics.

In closing, Guild of the Asbestos Weaver really benefits from its standard LP duration. Filling out to nearly 40 minutes, it’s not a less-is-more situation, but rather that Alexander Tucker has assembled a five-course meal, with ingredients familiar but fresh, that’s wholly satisfying. Experimentation and song forms are often combined, but rarely with such verve and precision.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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