CP on Facebook


CP on Twitter
Print Email

Listening Party

Bill Orcutt: How the Thing Sings

Photo: , License: N/A

Bill Orcutt

How the Thing Sings

Editions Mego

Depending on how literally you want to take it, the “thing” referenced in the title could be Bill Orcutt’s guitar, a battered acoustic with the A and D strings missing. Or maybe the “thing” is Orcutt himself, the former guitarist of scrabbling noise-punk unit Harry Pussy who dropped out of sight for a decade only to re-emerge playing solo on said guitar (any actual vocalizing he does is limited to high-pitched moans or Tourette’s-like outbursts). Or maybe it’s something else altogether. But what’s become apparent over the past two years is that Orcutt has found a way to funnel the anarchic energy of HP into the American steel-string acoustic tradition, making for a whole new type of song.

How the thing sang on his 2009 LP A New Way to Pay Old Debts tended toward explosive outbursts of frenetic picking, obsessively repeating and worrying angular riffs/motifs and slashing at the strings, not so much anything you would associate with the blues tradition but featuring a similar economy and root simplicity of structure and, above all, vivid emotion. How the Thing Sings’ “The Visible Bosom” reprises that approach, opening with arpeggios and a single-note melody line that quickly moves into alternating picked outbursts, plummy chords, and furious attacks; at one point, it sounds like Orcutt’s trying to wrest a single string right out of the machine head. But elsewhere, he branches out from the single-minded focus found on A New Way. The title track is just one of several that wraps Orcutt’s signature buzzy, string-banging assaults in more brooding, occasionally delicate settings; it’s no stretch to call “Heaven Is Closed to Me Now” beautiful. Meanwhile, the closing “A Line From Ol’ Man River” both links Orcutt’s music to a deeper American tradition (through said all-but-unknowable line) and extends his approach into a dynamic 13-plus-minute improvisation that, despite its repetitive nature, never fails to entrance.

At the end of “Till I Get Satisfied,” you can hear Orcutt breathing heavily in the brief silence after the last strum. This is, above all, intimate music, coming straight out of his guts, not always pretty but never less than alive and impossible to ignore. The next time someone asks you the last time someone did something new on a guitar, you can point to this.

  • Mobtown Moon Many of Baltimore’s most accomplished musicians collaborated on an adventurous, challenging, thrilling reinvention of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. | 4/17/2013
  • Zs Score: The Complete Sextet Works 2002-2007 Zs Score: The Complete Sextet Works 2002-2007 Northern Spy Improvisation has been the cornerstone of contemporary underground music for a decade now, maybe two, the exploratory/winging-it impulse that launched a kabillion CD-Rs and warehouse-space sets | 11/21/2012
  • Letitia VanSant A clever woman with a lot to say. | 7/11/2012
  • Wordsmith: King Noah ONCE UPON A TIME, rappers like Baltimore MC Wordsmith—labeled indie, conscious, or backpacker—dotted the mainstream hip-hop landscape like conscientious objectors, avoiding the violence, and self-hate | 6/20/2012
  • Gary B and the Notions How Do We Explode | 6/13/2012
We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines:

To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network ID. Sign up here.

Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.
comments powered by Disqus