Tonbruket – Dig It To The End (2011)

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They say nobody cares about album art, but art still sells. At least to me. It’s too small on CDs, everyone says, and when reduced down even further to iPod and iPhone size, it’s just a thumbnail. It just takes the right thing to catch your eye.

Where before it could be intricately detailed, drawing you in to examine it further, now it has to be more obvious, less subtle, something immediately engaging. Or, at least, something that makes you curious enough to stick around long enough to check out some samples on iTunes.

And so all it too was one look at the misshapen, lumpy-headed figured on the cover of this second album by Tonbruket (that’s Svedish for “tone workshop”). The ECM-like listing of musicians had me, too, because it lends a certain air of class to an otherwise obtusely odd piece of cover art. A strange balance, then, that makes me want to know more about what’s going on inside. You read that, ACT graphic designers? You caught me hook, line, sinker, and maybe even by hand, or noodlin’, if you want to call it that. I found myself simply lost, wondering just what this could be.

It’s not your normal jazz-looking release, you see. And that’s fitting because this isn’t really your normal jazz-sounding release, either. Opening tune “Vinegar Heart” features an absolutely smoking pedal steel solo, the kind of thing that you just don’t hear much anymore, not in rock, not in jazz.

It’ll have you wondering if this was filed in the wrong section. This is jazz? Too heavy, too weird. But that’s the thing – there’s no right section for this group. Just moments before, the song found itself in the desert, loping slowly along through the whispering winds and all, with piano and crying pedal steel tip-toeing along, and then it shoots up high into the atmosphere. It’s jazz by default, because it’s not anything else, either – not any one thing. It’s a wild conglomeration of whatever happened to pass through these guys’ heads at the moment – and it all works amazingly well.

These are the things that grab me, evoking just enough of this or that but prove to be nothing more than nods when you examine them closer. “Gripe” is a perfectly crafted cinematic moment waiting for just the right film to happen along. “Grandma’s Haze” reveals some DNA from Michael Hedges (and maybe Nels Cline’s Coward.) There’s a little rockabilly in “Trackpounder,” which translates deftly into surf midway through. “Balloons” is a bit Radiohead but taking everything they can do that certain step further that keeps it from being just mimickry. “Lighthouse” is as close to straight jazz as it might get — delicate piano dangles over a warbling, drunken loop, while the title track begs for Tom Waits to lend a cranky, howling narrative over top.

Dig It To The End is like listening to a band when they’ve tapped into that rich vein of pure creativity and everything is flowing — an odd delight from beginning to end.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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