Huntsville – Bow Shoulder

Bow Shoulder is the stuff of near-legend. The album documents a 2010 impromptu improvised recording session at the Chicago studio of alt. country stalwarts Wilco following a gig the prior day by Huntsville – the Norwegian trio of Ivar Grydeland (electronics, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and pedal steel), Tonny Kluften (electric bass) and Ingar Zach (tabla machine, drone commander, drums and percussion) – that saw them sharing a bill with Wilco percussionist Glenn Kotche’s On Fillmore side-hustle, and which saw both Kotche and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline hop on stage for the Hunstville encore. 

Convening at Wilco’s Loft space on June 29, presumably because Cline and Kotche happened to have the keys, the Huntsville players entered into a lengthy session that saw the already formidable five musicians augmented by Kotche’s fellow On Fillmore partner Darin Gray (bass) and keyboardist Yuka Honda. Edited and mixed ten years later by Grydeland at Oslo’s Amper Tone studio, Bow Shoulder consists of four lengthy pieces ranging from a svelte seven minutes to a expansive twenty, each one displaying diverse tonalities and a seamless, highly perceptive interplay. 

‘Side Wind’, which opens the collection, is like a gathering storm, a landscape full of sonic tension – scratchy guitar sounds, the kinds of wild yet totally controlled effects that Cline manages to weave into whatever project he is hired onto, tabla percussion, long, droning notes and the outlines of melodic gestures. There is movement and progress here, but little by way of pay off. Around eight minutes in it feels like it might suddenly blow over into a thunderous psych-motorik groove as a tight bassline nudges itself forward, but that would be too obvious for Huntsville & Friends; instead things subside again into a tense quietude but a sense of hypnotic, trance-like forward motion remains. 

Each piece is different from the next, but yet somehow utterly inseparable from the whole. The most significant departure arrives on ‘Lower’, wherein a more muscular interlocking between Zach and Kotche produces intense bursts of rhythm and subtle percussion gestures, upon which are heaped growling, whining feedback, distorted countermelodies that recall Cline’s pal Lee Ranaldo, long, fluttering echoes and grubby electronics. There is a feeling here of loops unspooling into the void, their final resting place a dense, impenetrable web of murky, thrilling noise, the whole piece finally arriving at a brooding, rhythmic intersection of menacing guitars and incessantly pounded drums. 

This is a mesmerising artefact born of chance encounters and shared aesthetics, of intense musicianship and the symbiotic power of seasoned improvisers playing off one another. 

Bow Shoulder by Huntsville (with Yuka Honda, Nels Cline, Darin Gray and Genn Kotche) was released September 25 2020 by Hubro. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2020 Further.