Anyone familiar with guitarist Cline’s wit and left-field playing won’t be surprised to discover there are no vocalists in the Nels Cline Singers, just Cline on guitars, Devin Hoff on upright bass, and Scott Amendola on percussion and live effects processing. "Just" is, of course, an understatement, because this trio make extraordinary music that dashes from jazz-inspired sojourns like "A Mug like Mine" to the pastoral "Lucid" to the knotty sonic collage "Blood Drawing."
This last is a neat summation of the Singers’ craftwork. Cline drags steel across his strings and toys with fuzz-distortion feedback as Amendola samples and spins everything back into the mix. We finally arrive at an oasis of melodies that are quietly wrung from Cline’s opaque-toned guitar or snatched from percussive sounds and repeated in loops. And by end of the 15-minute affair, the Singers have passed through a screaming firestorm of droning guitar chords, edgy vibrating melodies with a vaguely Eastern tonality, and a churning tornado of drums. It’s the soundtrack for an imaginary monster movie that, like most of this music, is also a playground for Cline’s whims and imagination.
What’s interesting about the Singers is that unlike most of Cline’s previous non-rock groups (he’s also been a member of the Geraldine Fibbers) they’re dedicated to touring and live performance. Most of the material on this disc evolved from their playing together rather than from composing heads and the like. Which means their local dates are likely to be spontaneous affairs, high-wire walking between technique and pure invention.
(The Nels Cline Singers play the Skinny in Portland this Tuesday, April 16. Call 203-871-8983. They play the Middle East, 480 Mass Ave in Central Square, this Wednesday, April 17. Call 617-864-EAST.)