Gutta Percha: Tube Overtures
The Land Of

Gutta Percha's Tube Overtures comes packaged in a sweet little wooden case (a limited edition of 200 in case you're wondering), but that's hardly the only thing it's got going for it. The work's title derives from the fact that Gutta Percha members Brent and Ryan Hibbett of Illinois reference 1980s television themes and incorporate the low-level static hum of the television into the eight thick sonic masses that make up the album's seventy minutes. It's a strategy that produces provocative results, in part because unusual juxtapositions appear throughout. Vaguely familiar lounge-like themes swim in a dreamy mix, at times rising to the surface with clarity and at other times elastically bending out of shape as fluidly as liquid. Played softly as background music, the album washes over you like wallpaper ambient music; listened to attentively, the material comes into cleaer focus, and one gains a strong appreciation for the deft balance it strikes between easy listening and experimental genre forms.

During the opener “Little House on the Restored Prairie,” a pocket trumpet's lonely call cries out amidst a forest full of crickets and other insects. Synth motifs and murmuring voices also appear, this time alongside what resembles the churn of a railway car on its tracks, before a jaunty TV theme rings out to bring the piece to a close. One suspects that Captain Kangaroo has been the object of plunder for “In the Kangaroo's Pouch” but even if that's not the case, the material still charms as much. Though sonic smudging blurs their outlines, flutes and sing-song melodies retain enough definition to give melodic shape to a piece that's both aquatic and melancholy. In “It's depressing seeing pipes, but they are there (which makes it more depressing),” the grimy croak of a trumpet is heard through a sewer pipe, with little else present aside from a distant, meandering drone and faint percussive clatter (is that the Mash theme I hear occasionally interjecting?). “Parking Lot Island” conjures the image of a dreamy, Eno-esque oasis on a Hawaii-like tropical island, while “The Homesick Caddie” offers a lulling aquatic lullaby that allows little hints of gamelan to sneak their way into the background.

The material undergoes an especial degree of metamorphosis during the triumphant final setting, “Detoured Highway to Heaven.” While on the one hand it begs comparison to Stars of the Lid, it gravitates even more in a direction that's strongly suggestive of Sibelius, of all things. The stately and swelling masses of low-pitched horns are sonically reminiscent of the great composer's tone poems, and watery strings also add to the music's symphonic weight. Though the recording's concluding ten minutes has the strongest impact, Tube Overtures as a whole is certainly worthy of one's attention. The case alone is a sight to behold.

April 2010