Music Review: Hypercolor–“Hypercolor”

by Douglas Cowie on 2 February 2015

Hypercolor – “Hypercolor” (Tzadik)

Kids loved the hypercolor t-shirts back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They changed color with your body heat, which meant everybody could see where you were sweating, but unlike if you were wearing a plain gray t-shirt, it looked sooper cool instead of, you know, gross.

Anyway, here we have changing body heats in the form of guitar played by Eyal Maoz, bass by James Ilgenfritz and drums by Lukas Ligeti. It’s the perfect rock ‘n’ roll trio set up.

But as Jon Spencer once yelped, “The blues is number one, ladies and gentlemen, but I don’t play no blues; I play rock ‘n’ roll” (yeah, he yelped with a semicolon; or maybe not). Just the same, these guys are set up like Hüsker Dü, but are chuggin’ down the line on a collection of sounds and rhythms that neither you nor I is going to get away with calling rock ‘n’ roll anytime soon, pal; blues or rock ‘n’ roll might be number one, but Hypercolor plays the jazz.

No, you’re not going to settle into a four-four groove and ride a swaggering riff into the cock-rock sunset, even when, as on “Palace”, right there in the middle of the album, these dudes strike out in a way that makes you think they will.

Nothing stands still on this album. The opener, “Squeaks”, starts with a frenetic drum groove played across toms, kick, snare and cowbell, held down by a syncopated bassline before the guitar enters with big chords. It shifts seamlessly to stacatto guitar lines; listen now to three guys locked in and playing off each other, together. Together is the key word. Even though it sounds like a guitar album—the guitar is just that little bit higher in the mix most of the time—you soon discover that the real interest lies in the ensemble play, which gets a spotlight in the unison section at the end of “Ernesto, Do You Have a Cotton Box?” The whole album, from the stumbling, erratic “Chen”, through the clean and chorus-pedal-heavy opening chords of “Forget,” just a little too left of center to be a Chris Isaak song and ramping up over the course of five and a half minutes, right through that question to Ernesto and the big riff at the middle of “Palace” and on and on and on and on, keeps shifting, directing your ears to this rhythm and this rhythm and this rhythm and that rhythm. It’s all a single sentence because even though the shifts are many, and many-flavored, these guys contrive to make it all sound like a natural thing, that these breakdowns, shuffles, ringing chords, muffled fuzz, and rhythms playing on top and across and through each other are just the way music was born to be. And maybe it was.

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