“GRID, the experimental trio of Matt Nelson (Battle Trance; Elder Ones) on saxophone, Tim Dahl (Child Abuse; Lydia Lunch Retrovirus) on bass, and Nick Podgurski (New Firmament; Feast of the Epiphany) on drums, have returned to NNA Tapes for the release of their colossal sophomore album, Decomposing Force.”
This is the first line of the press release for GRID’s new album, which aptly, albeit mildly, introduces the crushing transcendental skronk trio.
GRID is comprised of three stand-out improvisors in the current landscape of fringe experimentalists, who likely grew up glued to Headbangers Ball and realized the profound effects of improvising after dosing before band practice in 10th grade. Their damaged sensibilities have united for their best work to date. I’ve been privy to all three of these musician’s work in various projects that range from sublime to deranged for over a decade and Decomposing Force feels like a perfect union of past and future for the entire band. If we weren’t in the midst of a global pandemic, GRID would have celebrated the release of this album with a performance at Pioneer Works, but since live music doesn’t currently exist, we’re including the entire record here, along with my meandering review of their music, a short interview with the band, and whatever else we can throw in the pot (namely some solid phone footage of their last live concert).
Decomposing Force begins with Nelson’s barren, masterful sax spewing on “Brutal Kings,” a strong opener that immediately showcases their prowess and sets the freewheeling dissonant tone for everything that follows. Just as Nelson takes his first breath, he’s urgently joined by the strangely symbiotic rhythm section. The first two minutes lays the framework for the classically balanced trio, reminiscent of Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton’s mid-90s high energy free jazz exploits mixed with a little bit of the Band of Gypsies at their most incoherent. Just as you begin to get comfortable with their perfectly layered roles, GRID seamlessly shreds from their traditional-ish foundation into an annihilating codependent dirge, carefully formed and maintained, wavering through a saturated momentum with hard cuts and returns, each entry harder than the last until the effectively abrupt and punishing end. I’ve always wanted to remix “Naked City” to cut out all the wonky looney tunes shit and “Brutal Kings” is what I would imagine the result might sound like. The album is shaped like a bomb leveling an entire city and the aftermath that follows. If Brutal Kings is the bomb, then the following three tracks are the confusion, abandonment, and eventual acceptance of a new reality.
Just as you begin to get comfortable with their perfectly layered roles, GRID seamlessly shreds from their traditional-ish foundation into an annihilating codependent dirge, carefully formed and maintained, wavering through a saturated momentum with hard cuts and returns, each entry harder than the last until the effectively abrupt and punishing end.
On the second track, “Nythynge,” Dahl takes the lead and trades handfuls of sonic mush with Nelson over Podgurski’s relaxed, yet disintegrated kraut. One of GRID’s greatest weapons is their ability to reject and redefine their roles, which is never more apparent than it is here, as Dahl’s bass and Nelson’s sax (or maybe just his sax mic) converse through a choppy bay of atonal swells. “Nythynge” could be its own genre, like a drum n bass record played backwards at half speed, it churns through neanderthalic sways, as you’re pushed and pulled through a discordant sewer mist trance that’s equal parts meditative and terrifying. “Nythyngne” ventures in and out of pseudo melody that constantly gets reabsorbed into the thick mutant haze. The track clocks in at twelve and a half minutes long. It feels pretty static and settled as you zone out to it, but somehow it ends pretty damn far away from where it began, which is a testament to the band’s subtlety in the midst of chaos.
“The Weight of Literacy” continues the downward spiral into riff heavy Lynchian stoner groove that sounds like an alternate reality where Flipper recorded “The Process of Weeding Out” instead of Black Flag. Nelson’s ambiguous rolodex of sound sources interplays with Dahl’s steadfast run-on riff fragments, while Podgurski holds it down with a dismantled swing, like Elvis in a smoked-out underwater jazz club. When I hear ride cymbals like this I always imagine someone using them to cook eggs. “The Weight of Literacy” gracefully bows out into a stark transient wash of “Cold Sleep,” an ambient hymn that completely redefines the last twenty-five minutes of music, like watching the sunrise after a war. It’s a beautifully-paced reprieve from the bountiful noise that preceded, stacked with pastoral drones, an inviting use of effects and subtle cymbal-free percussion. Like most of GRID’s music, “Cold Sleep” evolves, but just when you think it might take off, they stick to their guns and deliver a satisfying prelude to a beautifully dynamic collection of raw, powerful and dissonant, yet highly listenable new music.
After having my face melted, I talked to the band about how it came together.
Decomposing Force is a really wild listen. Where did the title come from and how does it relate to the music you are making?
Thanks. The title is taken from a description of humans and our emanations. We observe and, with selfish arrogance and cleverness, proclaim every minute insight to be some 'new means.. The accumulation of this has the effect of a resultant decomposing force that counterbalances the resultant creative force of Nature.
As for this music, I personally feel a constant pull to clarify my place within the sphere of one of these forces. The title is for me a reminder to die to this pull. Being in that moment with what is necessary. I'm endlessly thankful for collaborators like Tim and Matt who are more than accommodating and with whom it's possible to generate such interesting, beautiful results.
Your press release mentions that you recorded this music, which is referred to as “noise jazz,” in one take, live to 1/2” tape. Thereʼs obviously lots of improvising here, but at the same time it sounds very concise and directed. Can you talk about your performance, composition, and recording process? Is anything predetermined or are yʼall just super in sync as free improvisors?
Keep a clear mind, active body, and don't be afraid to feel anything.
Improvisation and composition continue to blur. We don't really have notated or strict compositions in the traditional sense, but the musicians involved and the sonic nature of the band can lend itself to certain thematic and textural zones. After having performed and toured together for years now, we're accustomed to following longer and sometimes familiar compositional threads together during a performance, while also being more comfortable with the unknown zones. As far as recording, we try to balance capturing the energy and sound in the room with making a detailed document that will exist as such. We mainly try to get a blend of very close and very distant room mics to achieve that.
For whatever reason this band always sounded like this. It's what happens when we get together and play. We have a sound and we recognized it early. It's probably the main reason why we decided to commit ourselves to this project. Having an identifiable group sound isn't a common occurrence, so I believe it's usually a better choice to embrace it when it comes your way as a musician than to ignore and/or neglect it. We bring to the table our own musical and personal experiences, and then we listen and interact with each other. Sometimes it's on a stage and sometimes it's in a studio.
Since you would have performed at Pioneer Works to celebrate the release of this record, Iʼm curious how similar the live experience would be and how you connect your live performances to the music you release?
Play the album through large speakers into a room. Allow it to push the air at a volume where perhaps you can feel it in your body or need earplugs.
As Nick said, playing this album on speakers at an extremely loud volume will give you the closest approximation to experiencing it live. The music is often bass heavy and those vibrations felt in your body and inside your head are a big part of it. Since we recorded the album without any overdubs it is a pretty good document of our performance, as far as recordings go. We also have some fluorescent lights we use on stage so if you happen to have some of those laying around go ahead and turn them on too.
We sound like this live, but in the all-encompassing way that live music can have that differentiates it from recorded music. Live, we also change the atmosphere with our own lights. I was going to pitch using that mobile hydraulic lift that Pioneer Works has as an exiting device at the end of our set. Hopefully once things are up and running again we can realize that.
One of my favorite things about your band is the way each musician in the group approaches their instruments and the overall balance coupled with the way you all blend with each other. Thereʼs definitely a classic trio balance, but there are also lots of times when I canʼt tell what the source of the sound is. Is there a method to your sonic madness?
Yeah, there's definitely an element of subverting the sax-bass-drums jazz trio in a way. That's mainly superficial, though. Tim and I use a lot of pedals and electronics and Nick's drumming is kind of its whole own world, so none of our instruments really sound how one might 'expect.' But that's mostly just technique - a means not an end. A main element to GRID is that what you hear is a composite sound of what everyone is playing individually, plus everything kind of going through the open mic I have in my saxophone, being spat out through my pedals and amp, incorporated by everyone, and so on. I think that's often why it's not exactly clear to the listener who is playing what - it's sometimes not clear to us either.
Picking up on Matt's answer I would like to add that there is a surprise element to our mic'd composite technique. Fortunately working with these guys, we can trust everyone's technical and aesthetic ability to control and direct not only what is put out, but also what comes back.
This music is in many ways a perfect soundtrack to a pandemic. Itʼs chaotic and intense, with lots of forward momentum and evolution. Have you found a way to continue working on this project during this quarantine?
Thank you. All music should be pandemic. From the Greek: Pan (all) Demos (people). If well made it should "do" fine without one's marketing it. I'm more than confident we're all off cultivating our crafts. I don't see that as any different.
The cycle and evolution of this band has always been pretty organic. Periods of activity followed by inactivity. But what one initially perceives as activity or inactivity is often the opposite.
What has your individual experiences been during this pandemic and are there any silver linings?
This time is a moment of great opportunity for change. I'm optimistic and thankful that as a species we get to experience it together as one and that the act of that singular collective experience might yield something new and unusual. On the most minute local scale I'm optimistic that this epoch wherein music seems to be understood foremost as recorded-albums-which-need-to-be-marketed-in-order-to-matter-and-if-not-the-deeper-and-equally-superficial-and-vague-life-of-the-so-called-artist-is-simply-misunderstood-and-a-thing-to- be-collectively-fought-for-alongside-all-others-who-call-themselves-artists can shift into a place where the cultural currency and accessibility of sound and song might reintegrate on the most fundamental basic level into human life.
Hard to say at the moment.
For me, I play a lot of shows and tour all of the time. I also like to go out and socialize, so it's a pretty sharp turn from my normal routines. With that said, I welcome the challenge. There is never a shortage of things I can do, so I will adapt accordingly.
Can you share a few things that have helped you keep your shit together in quarantine?
Keeping my shit together is not a strong suit even in normal times so I'll just say I'm thankful for music and friends.
This list is quite banal, but it's true. Working on and editing old recordings that I have been neglecting, practicing things i haven't touched in years, reading a trashy book by Joan Collins (it sucks so far), getting housed on mezcal on a couple of nights, connecting with old friends around the planet, cooking, theorizing on where everything is going, listening to George Noory Coast to Coast AM, watching Inside Edition and laughing, listening to music, hanging outside behind my house.