To this day I distinctly remember an early adolescent experience whereby a combination of cheesy horror story and eerie, vaguely mournful music (by the avant-garde French composer Serge Gainsbourg) left me in a state of almost breathless foreboding, the chills running down my spine a palpable manifestation of dread.
What, you ask, has this to do with a CD review? Well, it's almost the exactly the same sensation I've been left with with each and every spin of Willie Eberstein's "Exothermia."
Written, according to the liner notes, in the wake of and in response to the troubled times following '9/11', Exothermia, an all-instrumental outing, is somehow as vaguely unsettling, as fractured and disorienting as the disturbing months in which it was recorded.
A blues disc? Not by mine, nor I suspect by most fans' definition. Even a version of "Stormy Monday,' arguably one of the most recognizable blues standards ever recorded (and recorded, and recorded . . .) is largely unrecognizable here, with only a flash of the original melody peeking through. Yet many a blues fan - at least those with an open mind - would at least be comfortable with the tone of Willie's guitar and the licks he employs.
It's not that Willy's compositions themselves are too far 'out there.' Structurally, he's not doing anything too terribly unusual. Instead, it's the strange mood he manages to convey. The overall impression is that of a soundtrack, not for a film - no film (even one of those incomprehensible art films where pretension takes the place of plot) is quite up to the material on Exothermia. As a reflection of the state of the world, it's nothing less than a soundtrack for our times. And only a world filled with fear and paranoia could inspire music such as this. Yet for all that, there's a weird kind of beauty here; merely by existing in the face of it all, by virtue of being an artistic statement, tentative, perhaps, in its defiance but defiant nonetheless, it offers hope.
There's no drummer credited, but Willy plays everything else - lead, rhythm, bass, and keys, all quite competently. But it's his electric guitar, at times searingly intense, at others moody and atmospheric, that's a constant throughout. Willy acknowledges occasional imperfections, yet explains that he felt it best to release 'as is' rather than go back to pretty things up. I agree; somehow a slick sheen of studio-imposed perfection just wouldn't suit the project.
At only thirty-four minutes, the disc's short by today's CD standards, yet, again, that too seems just right; Somehow I don't think I could take too much more.
This is truly one of the more unusual releases I've encountered this or any other year. I'd hesitate to give it an unqualified recommendation, as I suspect many would dismiss it out of hand; but for the adventurous, it may well qualify as essential. At any rate, no one will remain entirely unchanged by it in some way. And isn't that, in a nutshell, the underlying purpose of art?
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