Boomkat Product Review:
Modern Love grip the inimitable genius of Alex Zhang Hungtai - a saxophonist-composer and actor renowned for his work as Dirty Beaches and Love Theme, appearing in David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’, and more recently scoring the award-winning ‘Godland’ - for a maiden vinyl edition of his ravishingly cacophonous and noirish 2020 free jazz salvo. Spliced together from five years of grotty phone memo recordings into a miasmic reverie of echoing percussion and gusty, serpentine sax, it’s a real time-dilating wonder that sits somewhere between early Wolf Eyes, Milford Graves and Angelo Badalamenti - and we don't make any of those comparisons lightly.
Yeah this one’s an absolute killer. For 46 minutes Hungtai punctures our perception of linearity, working like a conductor, encouraging percussive flurries to trip and fall over each other, sometimes tempered by contact mic feedback to help skewer the chronology. He's assisted by three additional percussionists - Wet Hair's Ryan Garbes and Shawn Reed, and Leonard King - while Signal Decay's Nick Yeck-Stauffer plays trumpet, with each extra voice blurred into the middle distance, curling like pipe smoke into convulsive whorls.
The piece is frankly astonishing in its grasp of the maelstrom. Initially tentative, searching, with higher register hits like moths butting lone lightbulbs in an abandoned apartment block, the distant, plangent peal of twin brass wafts between rooms to impart a distinctly floating, OOBE-like feel for space. The brass recedes while the drums’ low end thickens and roils like a gamelan tempest, blurring impressions of knackered buildings or the temple rituals of ancient epochs, with sounds wafting in from other rooms to mess with the stereo field like ghosts of worshippers doing their thing. Remarkably, it conjures a fever dream miasma of ricocheting, thunderous polymetric clatter and proprioceptive fuckry without ever losing its head.
Hungtai’s canny use of contact mic feedback drone and cymbal saw gives the whole thing a sense of gauzy delirium that unites the grouches like mildewed grout and cobwebs, coarsely gelling the elements in a way that resonates with Pauline Oliveros and co’s Deep Listening band acousmagique as much as Basil Kirchin’s keeling ‘World Within World’ classic, the ghosts of Sun Ra’s ‘Nuclear War’, the possessed atmosphere of the cabin where Harley Gaber recorded ‘Wind Rises in the North’, and no doubt Harry Bertoia’s massive metallic sculptures, agitated at midnight.
Humid, menacing, and wraithlike, the album’s’ sense of keening chronics belies a visionary hand at the tiller, here tightened by Rashad Becker’s mastering, which faithfully brings to light, and shadow, the depth of perception and wild but concentrated energies at play, sealing in place a truly staggering session for adventurous ears, cineastes and Lynchian acolytes alike.