Pantagruel by Joshua Lopes
Dither the band is a four-man electric guitar quartet and Dither the album comes packaged with liner notes by Elliott Sharp. Even if you think you know in what direction these details are leaning, there is a minute and a half at the outset of this self-titled debut release when things seem held aloft in a kind of sonic limbo. Over a vague, ominous rumble, the delicate opening notes of Lainie Fefferman’s Tongues of Thorns are carefully plucked out, tempting the ear deeper and deeper into the texture. But then in a breath the musicians punch their way straight through and out into the world with a repetitive primal drive that never lets up until the piece wraps minutes later. It’s a provocative rocking that sounds good, feels good, and even when the music hits its fever pitch and the wailing claps you sharply, things still manage to keep to the honest side of controlled.
It makes for a bracing start to a disc that flexes the ears in quite a few compelling directions. Vectors by Jascha Narveson is built on relentless pitch bending, spare and spring loaded until this wind-up toy of a piece finally begins to tire out. Lisa R. Coons’s four-movement Cross Sections takes up the bulk of the disc’s 53 minutes, but in many ways it also leaves the most air in the room, twisting a path through all manner of textures with a more nuanced, patient, and subtle touch than the other works utilize. Manic racing lines move into glitchy noise and then onto glacial harmonics. In the end, the music gives way to a platform of hardly any sound at all.
Dither’s own Joshua Lopes penned Pantagruel, and whether or not the piece was in any way influenced by Rabelais’s literary creation, there’s an inventive, comic-book style boldness of color in how Lopes throws down that makes this work a striking production. In performance, the exactness of the ensemble playing and the clear-cut layers in the sonic material impress with their clock-like precision.
Concluding this odyssey is Eric KM Clark’s punishing exPAT, “a Dither commission for hearing-deprived guitar orchestra.” Seriously, the players are wearing earplugs and headphones playing back white noise, and the piece is scored for “as many guitarists as possible,” so you can see how things might get loud. exPAT is dense and aggressive—a solid, unrelenting block of vibration that’s aurally exhausting in a way the works on the album up to this point have not been. Which is not to imply that the disorienting state of overdrive this train rides out in is a negative, but as in extreme sport, part of the thrill is in the possibility of pain. Prepare your ears.