Western Mass-based experimental/math rock duo Fred Cracklin takes its name from a live action character played by Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore in the 1990s animated science fiction comedy “Space Ghost Coast to Coast.” The series is set up as a surreal late-night talk show featuring aliens, free jazz intermissions, and an irreverent sense of humor.
Much of what the animated television series brings to the table is translated into Fred Cracklin’s music on its second full length record, Anxiety Kinship, slated for an April 10th release. It’s a synthesis of noise rock, mathy noodling, avant-garde soundscapes, free jazz, and metal.
The duo is composed of Adam Bosse (guitar) and Max Goldstein (drums and mouth noises), but also features guest musicians on accordion and piano on a few tracks, including the album’s first piece, “Rongtern,” a song that sounds like Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla teamed up with avant-garde music group Naked City to create a soundtrack to a fever dream.
“Pinball Blizzard,” is a manic noise-rock piece that’s harsh and dissonant, but with a driving rhythm that drills into your mind like a jackhammer. There’s heavy feedback, sculpted into weird soundscapes and high-pitched noise reminiscent of tinnitus that adds to the alien sounds that Fred Cracklin builds. It’s strange and experimental, but never boring, as the piece is ever-changing in its wild atonality.
By contrast, the next song, “Toucan,” takes more cues from free jazz, while adding creeping melodies and fuzzy soundscapes to make listeners feel like they entered a portal into another dimension from The Twilight Zone. Ghost-like rumblings and atonal buzzing guitar lines quickly dissipate as they burst into a high-energy math rock section, before simmering down into a free jazz, piano-led improvisation.
“Boar Drill” takes metal, mixes it with avant-garde noise, and adds a dash of irreverent humor in the intro, as someone says, “Mary had a little lamb,” before another person interrupts, “I like that you sit over there and you hear it and then you figure it out. It’s like a three-step process.” From there, the song shifts to distorted math rock beats with musical non sequiturs.
“Smirksum Gurlin” is by far the most avant-garde piece on the record. It sounds like a combination of weird mouth noises, distorted dolphin chirps, high-pitched squeals, and a broken vacuum cleaner. The art in this piece is just how strange and unnatural it sounds — as if you’re having a one-sided conversation with a single-celled amoeba.
And then there’s “Brutal Tandem,” which, while still playing with song structure and form, manages to be head bangingly catchy and metal. This song features some of Bosse’s and Goldstein’s best guitarwork and percussion, respectively. It’s a heavily distorted piece with an ominous layer of grit to it; but at the same time, there’s playful and comic interaction between the two musicians.
“Kid Cracklin,” the next-to-last song, continues with the metal-inspired and avant-garde chaos. It’s a short piece in which vocalists sing along with Bosse’s manic guitar riff, creating an unnerving atmosphere that’s like listening to an occult ritual performed by a children’s choir and a metal band.
The album closes with its longest track, “Dead End Host,” which combines elements of what listeners have heard previously. There’s dream-like jazz, and there are passages of brutally heavy and abstract guitar and drums, all swirling in a whirlpool of entropy that’s the musical equivalent of watching a star being swallowed by a black hole. There’s beauty in that destruction and an otherworldliness that defies any preconceived expectations.
Anxiety Kinship is not an easy record to delve into. As with much noise rock and avant-garde compositions, it’s an acquired taste. But once you take the time to understand the musical language that Fred Cracklin is speaking, you might find your perspective on music has changed. With untraditional instrumentation, complex musicianship, and a knack for dynamic improvisation, Anxiety Kinship is a mad science experiment of an album that creates its Frankenstein’s monster with equal parts horror, humor, and humanity.
To pre-order Anxiety Kinship visit https://fredcracklin.bandcamp.com/album/anxiety-kinship
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send your CDs, cassettes, or vinyl to Chris Goudreau at the Valley Advocate, 115 Conz St., Northampton, MA, 01060.