October 18, 2001


Jam sessions. Being the music fan that I am, certain notions of jam sessions really fill my heart with glee. Who wouldn't have loved to have watched the fab four sitting around, jamming, stirring up their creative juices? Wouldn't you give anything to watch a young Jimi Hendrix Experience, or Radiohead, or Pink Floyd, or whoever happened to be your favorite band simply "rock out" whilst in the process of creating?

Of course, a jam session doesn't mean that the music will be good. The Beatles, for example: on the release of their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, according to author Mark Lewison, they entered Abbey Road for a jam session, yet the two hours that were on tape were, by all accounts, amateurish and nearly unlistenable--and it's best not to even mention the "jam-session-as-movie" debacle of Let It Be.

On this album, the first part of Bella Union's "Series 7" (seven bands, seven records, seven songs, all instrumental) series, Gwei-Lo are jamming. According to the sleeve notes, this was recorded in a span of five days, and it sounds like it. I can't tell you much about Gwei-lo, but I can definitely tell that they like to make music that has a bit of atmosphere and occasional sound effects and samples. Most of the songs start off rather quiet and unassuming, and then build their way up into a large, cacophonous racket that's both pleasing and thought-provoking. Occasionally they'll throw in a few nice bits of experimentation, such as "Annoy," which ends with a loud, static-fed garbled wall of noise that sounds really nice. Other songs, such as "Don't Try (Hank)" and "Homework" are mellower, and slightly more jazzy in nature.

What makes Gwei-Io interesting, however, is the fact that there's a certain melding of sonic aesthetics going on. Seeing as Bella Union is owned by Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde, (aka 2/3rds of the Cocteau Twins) there's a definite flavor of the Twins' old label 4AD--and, more noticeable, their former label mates/protegees Dif Juz. It's also rather apparent that Gwei-Io have a few Chicago post-rock/post-jazz records in their record collection as well, and the blend of 1990's era Chicago scene meets 1980's era 4AD sounds surprisingly fresh.

Though I don't know much about Gwei-Io other than the fact that I read somewhere that one of their members died recently, Gwei-Io is a rather nice listen, and it makes me wonder what these fellows sound like outside of the constraints of this rather peculiar and unique label "series." After all, if they can make lovely, interesting music in the course of five days, I'm sure that the results of more time would be quite lovely, indeed.

--Joseph Kyle

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