U.S. Maple – Talker

4 out of 5

Label: Drag City

Produced By: Michael Gira

From Jim O’Rourke to Michael Gira; from Skin Graft to Drag City. U.S. Maple were as fucked as ever to a casual ear – Al Johnson’s hacking vocals; dying bassoon bass lines; ADD drumming; precisely sloppy, half-aggressive guitar licks – but to dedicated listeners, those two changes resulted in big changes: the group’s edges became blurry; the confrontation of their sound became more contemplative. While this would still be a huge leap from here to the nearly wholly disassembled Acre Thrills, then an even further leap to the reassembled, arguably pretty Purple On Time, the beginnings of both of those moves starts here, and forms a near-perfect crossover of what was to come with the post-everything anti-rock of what came before.

Talker is less showy about its no-waveness, but it’s still undeniably U.S. Maple. All of the above mentioned elements are in place, though you’ll notice a willingness to let things drift a bit more. It’s interesting that that would come under the hands of Gira versus O’Rourke, but perhaps Swans’ penchant for noise played had the band honing in on a different way of deconstructing rock, applying their stuttering style in a more minimalist fashion; that some songs seem completely built out of the quietest Johnson whispers and barely tapped instruments / percussion seems antithetical to that Skin Graft skronk, but again, perhaps that was the point – something mirrored in the negative-space design of the cover (just as you can make something of the cut and paste covers of their Skin Graft releases…). Meanwhile, there’s still some very angular rock happening, though it shimmers into place instead of fitfully stopping / starting; as such the album takes a few tracks to find a “rhythm” – opener Bumps And Guys and third track Go To Bruises have the most excellent riffs and lead-ins to those, but also just kind of end. Taking the album as a whole, this starts to make sense – Talker is one long, slow-breathing experiment of stretched out Maple-isms – in the micro of those initial songs, though, it can feel like they’re not pushing things far enough.

Once you are past that, you’ll be in it, and perhaps find it hard to let go: closer So Long Bonus… peacefully drifts along on pitter-patter that makes a good lead-in to Bumps And Guys; this is an album that asks to be repeated, and honestly, is probably the U.S. Maple album that tends to sit in my player / list the longest for any given time.

Is it the disc to “explain” to people what the band is about? Nah, it’s probably easier to shock them with Long Hair. But this is the sneaky U.S. Maple disc to play that’s just weird and just pleasant enough to appeal to a range of listeners; an “accessible” album that’s not as far removed from the band’s anarchic side as Purple On Time.