Collections of Colonies of Bees: Birds
Radium / Table of the Elements

Jon Mueller: Metals
Table of the Elements

Jon Mueller / Jason Kahn: Topography
Xeric / Table of the Elements / Crouton

Three projects showing different sides of percussionist Jon Mueller's music-making, with Collections of Colonies of Bees' Birds offering a comparatively more accessible ‘rock' style that's light years removed from the experimental leanings of Metals and Topography.

Originating as a modernized take on traditional folk and bluegrass forms, Collections of Colonies of Bees was formed in 1998 by Mueller and guitarist Chris Rosenau but has since evolved into a quintet with the duo augmented by baritone guitarist Dan Spack, synthesizer player Jim Schoenecker, and Rhodes pianist Thomas Wincek (aka Emotional Joystick). Nominally post-rock, Birds' four “flocks” ground the guitarists' intricate patterns in the rhythm section's solid underpinning. The second piece opens with fluttering clicks of the sort one associates with Christopher Willits before segueing into a galloping shuffle that grows ever more heated while the set's strongest track “Flocks III” showcases the group's talent for mixing delicacy with urgency, and impresses even more with its slow-burning build towards ecstasy. The fourth piece brings the underutilized keyboardists to the forefront for a spell and exploits the players' talent for generating multi-layered weaves. Even though it's all very competently executed, it's still hard to get too excited about Collections of Colonies of Bees when the playing field's already populated by the epic sounds of Yndi Halda, MONO, and Cecilia::eyes, among others.

Topography merges Mueller's percussion and cassettes with Jason Kahn's percussion and analog synthesizer in a fifty-minute collection recorded at various stops on a March 2007 US tour. The duo eschews cacophony in these five live settings and instead opts for controlled feedback and smears of industrial character, resulting in rumbling electroacoustic drones of shape-shifting character where nary a conventional percussive attack occurs. “New York 1” pairs what resembles the amplified rubbing of a steel drum's surface with a background howl that slowly intensifies until it mutates into placid exhalations of metallic character. The machine static coursing through “ New York 2” gradually escalates from low-level beginnings to a more combustible and violent pitch, eventually suggesting the clatter of train cars near its close. In contrast to the frenetic city pace of the locales with which they're associated, the pieces unfold unhurriedly and exude a sense of time-suspension, especially when each is eight minutes in duration or longer.

Jon Mueller's thirty-three-minute Metals is Topography's antithesis: whereas the latter refrains from the intense physicality associated with conventional percussion playing, Metals is wholly founded upon it. Entirely created using drums and percussion only, Metals escalates in intensity from the outset of “Trace Essential” when snare and tom rolls, punctuated by pounding accents, swells to humongous proportions. The piece isn't without contrast, however, as Mueller offsets the tumult with a quieter passage here and there. “Homeostatic” relentlessly charges forth with hardcore brutality like an out-of-control charioteer, with wave upon wave of pummeling rhythms leaving the bludgeoned listener more than a little dazed and confused. A gong strike arrests the flow but the moment passes quickly as the drum onslaught returns, this time even more aggressively. The eleven-minute closer “Mineral Balance” likewise flattens small towns with a bulldozing groove that could single-handedly induce heart failure.

June 2008