PFE Music, 2012, DD album, 44m 25s
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I did a little bit of ‘research’ (a word that used to mean research, and now means believing the first thing you see on the internet), imagining that Naki Bone Jangle would turn out to refer to a ritual noise-maker made from bones by members of a native American tribe. Well, that may be the case, but I couldn’t find any reference to it. I could always have asked Richard Knutson to explain, but I think it’s worth trying to understand a recording as released; this one is enigmatic on many levels, and that is clearly a central plank of its meanings. Plum Flower Embroidery is a one man project, of the sort that I would almost certainly not have come across were it not for the way the internet has turned out; on its Bandcamp page there is a preposterous number of releases, dating back as far as 1980, including fifteen(!) since the beginning of 2010. If they are all as interesting as this one, or its predecessor Blackpool Mars, or the Churn Milk Joan releases made in collaboration with Colin Robinson of Big Block 454, then there is clearly some serious, detailed listening to be done, because that’s what I would call an Important Body Of Work (‘important’ work, to me, means that it effectively articulates a coherent artistic vision, not that anyone’s heard of it). I know from Knutson’s Facebook postings that some of these releases have had very few downloads, but frankly, that’s a token of the character of his motivations in pursuing this project; he’s not in it for the money, and he presumably devotes considerably more energy to writing and recording than he does to marketing.
Plum Flower Embroidery’s creative practice is song based; the material is strophic, but structurally free-flowing, and sometimes pretty formless, pursuing simple ostinatos for extended periods. This approach has certain audible resonances of the extended psychedelic jam, but important differences as well. The self-articulating, masculine gendered, urge to expression that characterises such music, that emphatic display of technical potency and passionate soulfulness, is displaced by an altogether more tentative and exploratory sound, that seems to be more about discovery than it is about performance. The instrumental resources consist of bass, percussion, guitars (with relatively restrained processing) and various synth and keyboard sounds, which like the guitars, inhabit a fairly circumscribed palette of warm, spacious and slightly woobly sounds. Such resources could be readily orchestrated into something very different from this; if we take ‘material’ to mean ‘chords, melodies and lyrics’, then even this material could be arranged in a way that reproduces conventional assumptions about the authority of the beat, and that reduces the perceptually contingent to the dervish trance of Led Zeppelin or Santana. That this album does not follow that path is largely a question of phrasing.
This is the music of the open, self-effacing gesture, rather than the closed, discursive articulation; it is the utterance of a voice that embodies its own lack of certainty, and that has the courage to embrace the indeterminacy of the world it describes and performs. The bodies to which Naki Bone Jangle addresses its physical aurality are the quantum potentialities of contingent, psycho-social construction, rather than the fictional mechanisms of sexual fixity and repetition to which most riff-and-beat based music is addressed. Rhythmically, this stuff is all in time, and its tempi are as metronomic as rock usually demands, but the contours of its phrases are diffuse; where riffs conventionally issue diktats (‘here’s where you move your hips; here’s where you stamp your foot’), these ones ask questions, evading the listener’s attempts to fasten their limbs to the sound and use it as a means of propulsion. Eventually it settles down to an ambient soundscape (‘Steam Punk’, ‘Griffen of Turnhill’), but this seems more a deliberate inversion of standard album dramatics than a necessary creative destination.
The preceding discussion might suggest something quite intellectually self-absorbed, something heavy and humourless; nothing could be further from the truth. The outward character of Plum Flower Embroidery is absurdist, and obliquely satirical. Naki Bone Jangle clearly embraces a sense of aesthetics that is compatible with widespread notions of musical beauty, but at the same time it employs a Dadaist strategy of poking holes in those notions’ supporting ideology. There is no need for a ‘great’ ego, or even ‘great’ music, to produce a fully engaged, satisfying aesthetic and musical experience; all that’s needed is for the parties to this act of sonic communication to arrive with as little baggage as possible, with open ears, with open minds, and above all with a sense of fun. This is a charming and amusing album, of unassuming rigour and deep creative generosity.