Brandon Seabrook – Die Trommel Fatale (2017)

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feature photo: William Johnson

As a guitarist, composer and erstwhile banjo commando for the Mostly Other People Do The Killing jazz misfits, Brandon Seabrook has long established a reputation for brashly planting his own flag in the far, dangerous outposts of experimental jazz. If you were going to give him a gonzo idea for an album that probably no one else has ever attempted before, I’d put down money that he’d at least be very interested in it.

For Die Trommel Fatale (now available through New Atlantis Records), Seabrook somehow got the idea of pitting his guitar, Eivind Opsvik’s bass, Chuck Bettis’s electronics and Marika Hughes’ cello against the cymbal-ess, primordial dual drums of Sam Ospovat and Dave Treut. But the idea isn’t the arrangement; Seabrook intended to mash the witch doctor ritual music of the Andes Mountains with the Central European avant-classical string quartet arrangements of Béla Bartók…all crafted inside the daredevil psyche of Seabrook himself.

What that means is that things violently swing between highly structured and highly unhinged and between spare and impossibly packed, with an aversion to any middle ground, and these opposing features often stuffed into songs that, save for two, run less than four minutes long.

A low buzz is the first thing heard from the opening, 150 second “Clangorous Vistas” but you knew that wasn’t going to last. A rapid thrill ride of note/rhythm progression of soon loses its discipline and the song just as quickly ends as it began. Low-end strings form basically dreary melody of “Emotional Cleavage” but this is hardly a dirge, not when Seabrook’s machete guitar attack and the hot-tempered drums raise hell, recede and leave behind a shivering uneasiness in its wake. The drums/guitar/electro noise attack on “Abscessed Pettifogger” blitzes the ears, takes a rest and comes back for more free-freak fun. Hughes joins in the madness, and the aggregate commotion is unlike any commotion made before.

Density makes way for the pregnant unease of “Shamans Never R.S.V.P.,” which for most of its performance sounds like an opera from hell. The hysteria meted out on drums and guitar “The Greatest Bile Pt. 1” eventually gets vocalized by Bettis, but so much more gets stuffed into this track, including a rapid-fire solo from Seabrook, a restrained one by Opsvik and a twisted one bowed by Hughes. Tortured Cookie Monster growls take center stage on “The Greatest Bile Pt. 2” in front of a circular prog-rock figure, while “Rhizomatic” is a blizzard(?) of brushes, a unique way to utilize the power of two drums.

“Quickstep Grotesquerie” pairs Seabrook with Hughes through choppy and diffused passages, being temporarily interrupted Bettis, who engages in weird-assed, electronically assisted vocal shenanigans. And “Beautiful Flowers” could very well be one of the most ironically titled songs: a two and a half minutes full band fusillade of fury that puts this whole beautiful beast of an album to bed.

Die Trommel Fatale is bound to elicit the same kind of “what in the fuck did I just listen to?” reaction that Brandon Seabrook’s prior Sylphid Vitalizers does. Always crazy like a fox, Seabrook might have again made radical art, but it’s art with plenty of purpose, vision and balls.

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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