June 20, 2006

Amps for Christ "Every Eleven Seconds"

Henry Barnes --- the guitar god who records under the stunningly apt name Amps for Christ --- is a jack of all trades, but a master of only some. Like its 2004 predecessor The People at Large, AFC's new CD Every Eleven Seconds skips across genres in a manner so scattershot that it feels more like a mixtape than an actual album. The only major difference between People and Seconds is that the latter album is shorter, running through 15 tracks as opposed to the former's 23. Despite such concision, the signal-to-noise ratio remains the same, which doesn't work in Seconds' favor. A bad song doesn't stand out as much when it's buffered by two or three good ones. However, Seconds is sequenced in such a way that both the diamonds and the duds tend to come in pairs.

Every Eleven Seconds is at its best when Barnes is playing a stringed instrument. It doesn't even matter which one he plays, because he's good at all of them! “Cock o' the North” and “Sweet Dove” are acoustic ditties that skip with the sprightliness of Celtic jigs. They sound as if they're being played by a full band in the same room, even though it's just Barnes overdubbing guitar, mandolin and bass on top of each other. Most of the time, though, Barnes adds tension to his folksy compositions with elements of noise. On “Out on the Moon (Slight Return),” he plays quick and winding solos on distorted electric guitar; the last two words of the title should give you a hint as to whose spirit he's trying to conjure. “El Corazon de San Vicente” is an interpretation of a song that Barnes learned from a local mariachi band. He plays it straight, aside from a whammied-out distorted guitar solo buried extremely low in the mix. Barnes' guitars on “Scotland the Brave” leap across intervals with the abruptness and agility of bagpipes. The backing track of the raga-like “Proof Man” is run through a light layer of distortion that makes Barnes' sitar playing sound even more ethereal, as if the listener is hearing it through a faraway loudspeaker.

Every Eleven Seconds falters when Barnes gives too much creative rein to his friends. Both the opening and closing tracks feature drum programming by a man named Keller. At no point in either of these songs do Keller's beats and Barnes' guitar playing achieve anything resembling synergy. On a couple other songs, an assortment of guests supply what the liner notes refer to as “caveman electronics.” The results --- usually collages of white noise, engine-like rumbling and anguished screaming --- sound like the kind of atrocities you'd expect from a limited-edition Wolf Eyes CDR. Then, there are the spoken-word pieces, which are recited by a man named White in an array of overdubbed voices, all of which are out of sync with each other. The pieces aren't long enough to be annoying, but they aren't interesting enough to reward repeated listens. All tolled, the noise and spoken-word tracks take up almost half of the album's running time, ensuring that most listeners will keep their fingers twitching toward the “skip” button.

In the early 1980s, multi-dimenstional composer Frank Zappa decided to satisfy the many fans of his guitar playing by releasing a series of albums devoted solely to it, called Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar. Perhaps on future Amps for Christ albums, Barnes can follow Zappa's lead by telling his friends to fall back and letting his fingers do the talking. It would make a world of difference.

Artist Website: www.ampsforchrist.com
Label Website: www.5rc.com

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