For the longest time, I only knew of Arto Lindsay as the man who played the skronky guitar parts on those early Lounge Lizards records. I knew of DNA, but that was about it. Looking back at his long list of credits, it appears that I was not paying attention, as Arto made appearances on a ton of albums that were in my own collection. This includes artists such as John Zorn, Bill Frisell, David Byrne, and Laurie Anderson.
Lindsay is one of those musicians whose own style of play fits comfortably into a lot of different contexts. With his own work, you can see this in the eclectic and often surprising juxtapositions of seemingly unlike sonics. With the release of Encyclopedia of Arto we finally have a concise (and certainly challenging) distillation of his music. Spread over two CDs, this compilation takes a look at the broad spectrum of Lindsay’s solo work, from his Brazilian-influenced pop and electronica mashups (disc 1) to his brutal and exhilarating guitar assaults (disc 2).
Disc 1 is centered around Arto’s solo work from 1996 to 2004. With Brazilian rhythms, light electronica elements, guitar that sneaks around and through the melodies, and a vocal delivery that somehow reminds me of poetry readings (in a good way), Lindsay’s albums from this period are intriguing, if tough to categorize. When it was announced that Lindsay would be releasing a record on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records, it seemed like a curious pairing. But then “Prize” came out and it all made sense. The title track, represented here, spills out with slinky rhythms, bits of drum & bass, and the occasional blast of guitar shrapnel. These outbursts don’t happened all that often, but when they leap out of a background of some happy, salsa-inflected music, it’s kind of shocking.
The second disc is made up of solo performances with Lindsay creating variations of guitar blasphemy, all the while delivering vocal passages that feel like part exorcism, part performance art. Arto appears to be using a guitar and an amplifier, though there are several occasions where you’d swear he was dragging around a couple of sheets of corrugated sheet metal. On the adults-only “Erotic City,” the randy thoughts fly fast and loose, as does the scrap metal guitar. It’s really great stuff, unless you’re against the idea of noise as music.
The best study in contrasts here comes not so much during the individual performances as in the transformation that takes place between the studio and live versions. “Invoke” in the studio has a skittery beat, otherworldly synthesizer blurts, and occasional string accents. In the concerts setting, we have Lindsay’s ethereal vocals floating over scabrous chunks of distorted guitar. The changes that “The Prize” goes through are even more severe as the studio recording, all strings and loping rhythms, becomes an exercise in stilted vocals and violent guitar madness.
It’s common to apply disclaimers to collections like Encyclopedia of Arto, that maybe it’s “not for everyone.” But there’s so much beauty and inner detail here, especially on disc one, that it might be worth it for the neophyte to take a leap of faith. If you’re looking for a little ear expansion, Arto Lindsay’s your man.
Feature photo by Anitta Boa Vida
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