Minibus Pimps: Cloud To Ground

Those familiar with Helge Sten's previous output as Deathprod and as a Supersilent member won't be taken aback by the boldly experimental sound of his Minibus Pimps venture and the mini-album Cloud To Ground. Listeners who heretofore have only thought of John Paul Jones as Led Zeppelin's bassist might be a tad surprised, however (even if his keyboard contributions, mellotron among them, played a large part in broadening the group's sound). But those more informed about his career might know that he's been an avid explorer for years, as shown by his involvement in numerous different projects: as a contributor to Brian Eno's Opal Records label (specifically the track “4-Minute Warning” on the 1988 compilation Music For Films III); as a producer for artists such as Diamanda Galás and Peter Gabriel; and as a member of Them Crooked Vultures alongside Dave Grohl and Josh Homme. In addition, Jones issued Zooma, his debut solo album, in September 1999 on Robert Fripp's DGM label and even appeared as part of the onstage band in Mark-Anthony Turnage's opera Anna Nicole in 2011. A meeting between Supersilent and Jones occurred at the Punkt festival in Kristiansand in 2010, a development that in turn spawned Minibus Pimps (the group took its name from a track on a compilation of Chinese experimental music).

The duo's debut effort is an unusual creature. For starters, the album's seven tracks (four of them constituting an electronic suite) were recorded live at different places, among them London's Café Oto and venues in Norway and Denmark; secondly, the release curiously totals a mere half-hour. A blend of composed and improvisational elements, Cloud To Ground's sound character is heavily determined by the duo's deployment of the Kyma computer system, by which instruments such as guitar, bass, and violin are radically transformed until the originating sound sources become almost unrecognizable—not so unrecognizable, however, that Jones's distinctive bass style can't be heard fluttering through “Black Aurora Pt.1-4” amidst a cosmic brew of other instruments. During its fifteen minutes, spidery harpsichord patterns declare their hyperactive presence against the swelling presence of an all-consuming black cloud before the storm subsides, leaving diseased organ chords and cryptic electronic transmissions to gradually rise from the scorched landscape. After that epic scene-setter, the title track presents a teeming mass of electrical pulsations and monstrously woozy organ convulsions, while “Superbolt” plays like a shrieking swarm of alien creatures violently gorging on itself.

For those coming to Minibus Pimps for the first time, the group's sound, at least insofar as it's presented on Cloud To Ground, is consistent with the kind of ‘audio virus' one associates with Deathprod as opposed to anything Zep-related (the violin sawing in slow-motion through “Arc” especially calls to mind Sten's now-retired project). Though the results are anything but easy listening, it's nevertheless wonderful to hear Jones collaborating with Sten on such an uncompromisingly adventurous group project.

April 2014