If you’ve wondered how many albums Good For Cows could squeeze out of the acoustic bass/drums format, you’ll want to give this a listen. After years of stripped-down instrumental pop (usually filed in the jazz bins), the duo has downshifted into a slow-blaze kind of metal, with gravity-well electric bass (deployed like a fuzzy lead guitar, really) and deliberate, icy-stare drums. Within a few notes of Audumla, the black-on-black album cover makes sense.
It’s a new voice that doesn’t necessarily accommodate their prior approach to writing. “Fafnir” recalls Good For Cows’ earlier pop, albeit done up in fuzzy aggression. But that somehow seems to call attention to the song’s slow pace; it feels incomplete (but redeems itself with an awesome bass/drums double-soloing stretch). Other tracks feel more like they’re written with the grinding heat of metal in mind — “Lenore,” for instance, uses a snappy midtempo bass riff to set up a mood of power and dread, later popping into a stomping hard rhythm. That’s more like it.
“Invisible Goth” rocks out with a hammering beat and some ringing, guitar-like electronics triggered by Ches Smith‘s drums. The extra sound adds a nice dimension. But my favorite on the album is probably “Solfell (Mountains on the Sun),” where Devin Hoff adds some noodling prog-rock bass patches and Smith gets a spacey electronics break.
Now, if I’d actually known something about Hoff and Smith, Audumla might not have surprised me. It turns out Hoff has an “undying love for metal,” which is how he explains his newest solo project, Lucifer the Lightbearer.
It’s a solo excursion into multiple basses and vocals, creating heavy, dark landscapes (as if the album art, at right, wasn’t clue enough). “The Fallen” opens the album with a heavy, slow chanting of electric bass, eventually adding a treble voice in the form of bass played with (I think) the edge of the bow, for a springy and — in the literal sense — metallic squealing.
The album starts to really rock out with “Son of the Morning,” which stacks up a sinister chiming electric bass with grimaced vocals done in an oversaturated whisper/groan, followed by squealy bass-guitar soloing. Overall, Lucifer is heavier than Audumla and doesn’t have the latter’s pop roots. It’s a fascinating little world of evil, built by Hoff in shimmering layers.
The album wraps up with the acoustic “Light Bearer,” a peaceful and even mournful ending, perhaps showing — I can’t believe I’m about to type this — some sympathy for the devil.
Hoff is in the process of putting Good For Cows’ older albums on Bandcamp as well — follow this link. Or, you could also see if Mike at Asian Man Records has any more copies of Good For Cows’ Bebop Fantasy CD.