There are, in essence, two kinds of record I like. The first, and most pervasive in my library, is the category of music that reflects my personal taste most closely. I’m talking about music that, right away, speaks to me and my own tastes or values. These are bands and albums that go right to the heart of me, resonating off of an internal architecture that seems to anticipate the sound. Those records are also, often times, boring to discuss at length.
The second category of music I like is one I do enjoy discussing. It’s music that challenges my mind and pokes holes in the comfortable world I would have otherwise built for myself purely out of music that placated my personality or patronized my self-image (it’s not the 90’s anymore, and for good reason.) Extra Knusprig – the second album from Adelaide, Australia’s 1.1 Immermann – is a record that, for me, pushes beyond the familiar (or perhaps shows you what lies just on the other side). It’s inventive, surprising, confident, and coherent. I felt my mind expanding and changing a little as I listened.
At every stop along the way, 1.1 Immermann’s guitars are tidy, diligent, and meticulous. The bass guitar is fluid, roving and fearless. The use of effects and synthesizers and samples are incredibly measured and tasteful; they are almost always in support of the arrangement and mood. The drums are, in my view, the soul of the band. They audibly guide the trajectory of each song. The other players are so adept, however, that the drums don’t needless distract in their mission to drive progressions forward; everyone seems to keep pace just fine.
This is also an incredibly progressive band, one that would make both jazz and classic rock titans (like King Crimson) proud – but not for any sort of emulation or particular homage. Make no mistake, 1.1 Immermann is on its own planet. The record is chalk-full of unique, windy passages that sometimes lead you someplace unimaginably new and other times right back to where you started. Between the album’s ‘segues’ – short, spirited grooves far more interesting than your standard album transition – Extra Knusprig’s real “songs” are elaborate journeys full of bright, exuberant imagination and relentless energy.
There’s natural, organic positivity that emits from the sound of the record overall. While “Zebralion” starts out reflective and distant – gentle but insistent guitar strums over a test tone – the song suddenly “snaps out of it” with a lightning flash of synth percussion into a pleasant, if adamant, groove. This is a record that likes to use its legs; it likes to wander down the street and see what’s up. Of course, down around two minute-ten, the scene changes and night begins it’s slightly menacing descent. Not thirty seconds later, the song shifts again. This is not unlike lucid dreaming: the strange, magical environment and the conscious exploration of a fantasy – and when things get weird, you fly off to the next chapter. By five minutes, the song has blossomed into a beautiful swirling, cascading feeling. It’s riveting and intoxicating in its effect.
“The Conch” is my favorite song off the record. Deceptive and sly, it kicks off with a straight beat – but within a matter of bars, there are stutters and stabs impelling the “simplistic” groove to mutate gradually. The switch-ups are flawless: the execution of their ideas is just as impressive as the ideas themselves are. There’s impeccable musical timing to the record throughout; it knows just what to say and when to say it. The song continues to expand with logical expansions, purposeful flourishes, and eventually some pretty wild tangents. The guitar solo at two minutes-fifty is expertly restrained, beginning choked and intermittent before filling in more and more, and then diving into some serious math with the band. And when three minutes-fifty rolls around, I have a sense of how I arrived at this place, but the destination is still somehow totally unexpected.
“The Big Squeeze” is also a standout track on the record. It is perhaps the most cinematic of all the songs, evincing the band’s ability to establish and maintain a thick, unbreakable mood. There’s a sense of intrigue and shadow, but not “darkness” or grimness. The band appears incapable of moping around or exhausting their inherent drive.
The production of this record – the mixing and editing – does a superb job of drawing the listener’s attention to all elements in an organized way, maintaining an emotion and keeping the humanity of the record intact. The mix manages to show off the texture of each instrument or synth patch or sample, and not just the melodic content. It is suitable that a record with such innovative arrangements should have an innovative mix, as well. “The Hate Camel” is a great of example of this, and of all the songs this one takes the most playful approach to the use of samples with an audience applause recording cut into the hypnotic acceleration of the song at the three minute-forty-five mark. It has a strange effect on the ear, to be sure, but this band thrives on strangeness and newness.
The fourth and last segue is also an example of the mix showing you different sides of a track, taking a pleasant, if standard, groove and then abruptly shifting the instruments off to the side and into the corner for a vocal harmony to appear. Simple, bizarre, smart.
“En” is built on a series of complicated grooves, as opposed to the wider and more gradual progression of “The Conch” or “The Big Squeeze.” It’s harder to follow, frankly, but extremely rewarding. There are a dozen singular and compelling moments throughout the song, each with its own distinct tone and feel. The tape cassette sample at three minutes isn’t just a sample: they drop a single phrase of the song into this diegetic moment and then leap right back out of it. It’s a fun experiment, but if it hadn’t been executed as smoothly it would have been a bit irritating.
“Samizdat” does a fair job of representing my overall impression of this record. This song, like the record, is a detailed exploration of rhythm and dynamics; of melody and strategic dissonance; of imagination and technical proficiency. It’s scary that this much imagination has found such a reliable set of hands to communicate such complex and stirring ideas. More importantly, they have taken chances and have endeavored to show the listener something new. They have succeeded.
For myself, I have struggled and ultimately failed to find anything about this record I don’t like. But considering 1.1 Immermann have a stronger sonic palette than Radiohead, the same boldness of The Bad Plus, an imagination that matches (and in some ways exceeds) McDonald and Giles, and a technical proficiency beyond any band remotely in the same class or particular strata of genres (Battles sounds boring and childish in comparison) – I can’t say I’m surprised. Extra Knusprig is a wonderful and exotic experience.