Illyah Kuryahkin

Thirtycabminute

An album that defies easy dissection on most levels, Illyah Kuryahkin's sophomore effort is also one of the more adventurous and sonically mesmerizing of the year. Dean Wilson (a.k.a. one-man band I.K.) first surfaced in '96 with Count No Count, a kind of No Wave take on Guided by Voices' lo-fi pop profundity that alternately charmed and perplexed reviewers. However, as with many so-called "difficult" albums -- remember how you scratched your head the first time you heard Byrne & Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts? -- attention paid across multiple listening sessions can reap great rewards. After spending time with Thirtycabminute, I find myself thinking of Tim Buckley's daunting forays into folk-jazz-pop fusion, experiments that were often decried for their difficult, demanding nature (how synchronicitous -- Rhino Handmade, Rhino's Internet-only imprint, just issued a Buckley archive disc called Works in Progress).

Maybe "difficult" isn't the right word. "Skewed," perhaps. Wilson sings in a rasp-infected whisper that's additionally "treated" to convey a somewhat otherworldly feel; it's like a voice one might recall from a dream, not a waking experience. Adding to the surreal vibe is a plethora of acoustic guitars, some with odd Eastern tunings, layered in such fashion as to sculpt a humming/droning wall of sound -- in places they sound like cellos (and a violin actually does appear). Phil Spector it ain't, though, for Wilson is careful to let individual axes, plus piano, synth, horns and percussion instruments, poke through with regularity, lending warmth and personality to offset the aforementioned oddness.

That's the general description; what about the songs?

One early standout is "Takin' a Train," a pulsing -- yes, trainlike -- modified blues song whose titular phrase provides an irresistible vocal hook. Another, a seven-minute instrumental called "Vaval," suggests a traipse across an urban landscape, right down to the dueling street-corner saxophones. "How I Died," with its brushed drums, standup bass, airy guitar flourishes and muted trumpet, is a mournful slice of noirish lounge jazz. And "T(h)om Verlaine" is a riveting, complex psychedelic suite brimming with some astonishing riffery that pays due homage to the Television guitar maestro.

Give Illyah Kuryahkin a chance. He'll slip in and steal your mind. But after some pleasurable tinkering, it'll be returned to you.

 
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