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Booker Stardrum - Temporary etc. Music Album Reviews

One of several recent drummers to combine electronic processing with instrumental chops, the People Get Ready member swings like a pendulum between chaos and order.

It might seem counterintuitive for a drummer to embrace electronic music. After all, some say drum machines have no soul, while others still insist that groove boxes will put drummers out of business, even if that idea is less prevalent than it was 30-odd years ago. But electronic music is a fundamentally time-based art, and no one understands the intricacies of clockwork better than drummers, a species with a heightened perception of the relationship between muscle and millisecond. A raft of drummers have recently fused their instrumental practice with electronic processing, putting a percussive spin on electro-acoustic composition, from the laptop-aided layering of Greg Fox and Eli Keszler to the drill ’n’ bass mechanics of RRUCCULLA.

Add to that roster the impeccably named Booker Stardrum, a member of Cloud Becomes Your Hand and People Get Ready and a collaborator to Lee Ranaldo and Nels Cline. Stardrum’s second album, Temporary etc., slips and slides between propulsive stickwork, programmed sequencing, and glowering metallic drones—like 2015’s Dance And, never settling in any one terrain for long. But where Dance And often dissolved into post-punk mulch that obscured the origins of Stardrum’s sounds, Temporary etc. wipes away some of the dirt and leaves his signature in sharp relief.

The distance between the two albums is immediately apparent with Temporary etc.’s “Drim Dram II” and “Drim Dram III,” variations on a theme established on his debut album. Where Dance And’s “Drim Dram” submerged incessantly tumbling toms in a muddy swirl, “Drim Dram II” and “Drim Dram III” are crisp and kinetic, with the cartoon brightness of vintage Raymond Scott. Rapidfire patterns mirrored between drums and electronic tones mimic popping popcorn. If it’s not always clear how Stardrum is generating these hybrid sounds, the force of his wrists and forearms is the unmistakable driver behind his flexible timekeeping.

“Wisp” approaches the kit as a kind of action painting, almost athletic in its bold strokes and brusque gestures. In “Five Finger Cloud,” boomy toms and brushed snares circle each other warily, sketching out polyrhythms that are devilishly difficult to parse while Jon Hassell-like pads and gentle sax add dimension. When he hones in on the groove, Stardrum’s pockets are as deep as Jeff Bezos’. But his atmospheres are just as compelling as his beats. The opening “Dome Ship” conjures a hazy mix of church bells and a horn section, gradually giving way to a freight train’s relaxing clatter. Descending synth riffs and voluminous reverb add a soothing quality to the grinding rhythms and machine-shop whine of “Swimming,” like a kind of industrial lullaby.

Sometimes, Stardrum abandons rhythm entirely. During the beatless “A Passage or Time in a Hanging Truth,” softly stacked horns bend in pitch, like light through water. He smears the keening sounds of European sirens until they vibrate with the microtonal hum of Ligeti or Xenakis—it’s like the THX “Deep Note,” overcome by seasickness. On the seven-minute highlight “Trash Island,” he begins with a collage of scraped and battered drums and cymbal hits. Without warning, the drums stop, only to reveal glistening organs before the scratching and bashing returns. And on it goes, swinging like a pendulum between chaos and order, violence and idyll—cycling, turning in circles, as only a drummer knows how.

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