John Dieterich, Ben Goldberg, Scott Amendola – Short-Sighted Dream Colossus (2014)

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When three of the Bay Area’s most respected musicians – and three distinct artistic personalities — get together to make a record, you know just know it’s going to be something apart from what you’ll hear anywhere else. As it turns out with their recent encounter Short-Sighted Dream Colossus, that includes music apart from even their own, separate works.

Recorded back in 2010 but finally seeing the light of day on September 16, 2014, Short-Sighted Dream Colossus combines some of the best sides of clarinetist Ben Goldberg, drummer Scott Amendola (The Nels Cline Singers, T.J. Kirk) and guitarist John Dieterich from the influential avant-punk Bay Area legends Deerhoof. Their collective range of expertise goes from fiercely indie rock to funk-jazz to klezmer jazz and all permutations in between, but they find plenty of common ground in the improvisational, experimental space.

Amendola’s history with both Dieterich and Goldberg goes back many years; Deerhoof has played some shows with the Singers some fifteen or so years ago; Amendola and Goldberg have long played on records together, some on Goldberg’s records, others co-led by the two. While Dieterich has admired Goldberg’s New Klezmer Trio albums from afar, there was actually little prior history or overlap between them. Goldberg recalls, “John and I don’t speak the same notational or theoretical musical language, so I wondered about the best way to convey my songs to him, and whether I had a correct understanding of his songs. I wondered whether I was strong enough to rise to the stark beauty of John’s compositions and play something worthwhile on them. Wondered about duration, orchestration, etc.” Dieterich had his own reason to worry in advance about the challenges of playing this one-day recording session in the context of a one-off project: “It was the day before I moved from Oakland to Albuquerque, New Mexico, so I was feeling a bit fried and distracted.”

Any anxiousness about working together for the first time quickly dissipated, however. Said Dieterich, “Those guys were so great to work with and so focused that it was really easy. I have never recorded something that came together so quickly or easily as this record. A real pleasure. (They) never cease to amaze.”

All three contributed songs but it’s how they’re handled that shapes this album, nearly all of which are wrapped up in four minutes or less.

Dieterich’s “Bent Spaces” reveals an instant chemistry between him and Goldberg, taking an acoustic guitar and clarinet to places trad jazz never could have imagined. They begin with a single-note figure together, Goldberg briefly taking the lead in a hopeful tone and hinting at freedom before the two reconvene on a new figure. A soft, fingerpicked electric guitar is paired with the clarinet for Dieterich’s “I Feed You,” again with meandering lines that go off the path and find it s way back home all the same. These two songs with their roaming note progressions reflect Dieterich’s approach in forming the basis of his songs mainly from solo guitar fragments. Listen closely to his “Charming Teeth” and you’ll hear him play both a trill and some lead notes at the same time, undertaking two guitar parts simultaneously.

With the front line duo often keeping time in the midst of all their other chores, Amendola is freed up to add extra complexion to the tunes. He churns continuous turbulence to Goldberg’s “Determinate/Indeterminate” a jingle-like march that’s bracketed by a noise rock moment. A contrast comes on another Goldberg composition, “Sorrow,” where Amendola’s brushed patterns on the snare goes up against Dieterich back on acoustic guitar and essentially playing bass. In the meantime, is Goldberg playing excellent clarinet. Goldberg stitches together seemingly unrelated melodic fragments for the moody “I Miss The SLA” and devises yet another simple, catchy melody called “Phony False Alarm” played with one of Amendola’s specials, a loose and deep groove.

Amendola himself only contributed the brief “Time For Helmets,” a harmolodic type song with its sharply defined themed played together by Dieterich and Goldberg and then violently deconstructed and reconstructed again right at the ending. The drummer, however, stays in unhinged mode for the song’s entirety.

I could talk about the remaining seven tracks but actually, I already did…the first seven songs are repeated in reverse order, with the eighth track “Charming Teeth” representing the middle, non-repeated apex. This palindrome pattern of ordering the songs could be thought of as art, too, going beyond the art from the making of sound, and they somehow feel differently heard on the back end compared to the front end.

Music that’s made democratically from three contrasting talents without much contemplation typically results in the most unanticipated delights that come from not having any idea what will come next, but knowing it will be damned good. “For me,” confides Goldberg, “every time I listen (to Short-Sighted Dream Colossus) I hear a kind of plainspoken mystery whose essence feels just out of reach.”

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron

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