I’ll tell you a very short story about how quickly Oren Ambarchi’s latest album became one of my favorites of 2016. My first listen to Hubris resulted in the below note, found scribbled on a note pad at my desk the next morning:
“Giant stupid grin inducing fusion of New Music minimalism and krautrock groove.”
That jumbled run-on was all that I could muster after having my mind blown by surprise, early one December evening. What follows is my attempt at organizing that electric feeling into something more digestible.
Hubris hits a core part of my musical love in two distinct places. First is my endless adoration of shimmering, layered modern minimalism from childhood Philip Glass listening to my mid-twenties obsession with Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians (I still consider it a perfect piece, especially in its original ECM recording). Next is my primal addiction to rampaging tranced out psychedelic rock, exemplefied by Boredoms’ Super Roots 7 or The Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray. The way it Hubris folds these two elements together feels like magic.
In Berlin, Ambarchi gathered a star-packed team of musicians for this latest effort, including Mark Fell, Will Guthrie, Arto Lindsay, Jim O’Rourke, Konrad Sprenger, Crys Cole, Joe Talia, Ricardo Villalobos, and Keith Fullerton Whitman. By my count, that’s four musicians I have spent a lot of time with over the years and a handful of others I now need to get familiar with. They’re all exciting artists with wildly different discographies, varying skills brought to play here. Somehow, this is one of the most tightly coiled albums of the entire year, sounding too laser focused to have come from such a broad team. But it did happen.
The forty minute set is divided into three songs, with a pair of massive bookends and a slim two-minute guitar workout in the middle. The first track is all hot precision, with shifting layers of palm-muted guitar tones shifting across the stereo spectrum, open vocal choirs humming between the sharp notes, and a slowly unfurling synth explosion. After a brief moment of calm at the center, the third track rises up loud and fierce. It’s a radical reincarnation of the opening piece, transforming the playfully focused jam into a noisy eruption in slow motion. The energy keeps building past the ten minute mark, threatening to rip into a maelstrom of skronk but never quite toppling over its motorik groove.
There’s almost nothing I’d want more to hear live right now. You can listen to the full album here on Youtube: