75 Dollar Bill ‘I Was Real’ 2LP/CD (tak:til) 4/5

“I Was Real” is New York based, 75 Dollar Bill’s third release and sees the band take its music into new directions. The previous record, ‘Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock’, established the template of instrumental music based on repetitive microtonal guitar patterns locking into a groove delivered by unusual percussion instruments such as plywood crate. While percussionist Rick Brown and guitarist Che Chen still remain as the sole official members, eight guest musicians feature and have brought their influences and more texture to the music.

The album starts with ‘Every Last Coffee Or Tea’. The intro is a loose open droney space incorporating some of the musical themes to follow. Disappointingly, as the other musicians join in, the piece moves to a repetitive hook, mirrored by a viola which to me is reminiscent of Celtic folk music. It feels like a lost opportunity. ‘C. Or T.-Verso’ is a studio tune using sounds from ‘Every Last Coffee Or Tea’ to create striking and exciting drone effects. ‘Tetuzi Akiyama’ is more uptempo and rockist, probably the most conventional track on the album with a more recognisable song structure. ‘I Was Real’ is the stand out track. A primal slow burn guitar riff on a bed of droning sounds and syncopated percussion. The track rarely strays from the repetitive groove but it deepens sonically until the release and slow fade. “WZN3-Verso” is fiddlers fest with accompanying saxophone and guitars. “New New/The Worm/Like Laundry”, as you can probably guess, is a collection of 3 distinct sections. The first part has a repeating melody that quickly gives way to a liquid drone. The quieter third section emerges like the morning after night and is really quite beautiful with a rather bluesy feel. “There’s No Such Thing As A King Bee” begins with urgent insistent percussion quickly joined by the raw exuberant guitar. While the percussion stays consistent throughout the track, the guitar playing seems a little less rigid and rawer like a rockabilly jam. The last two tracks, “WZN4” and “WZN3” are a return to the more stripped-down performances by the duo with “WZN3” being particularly successful.

On this album, 75 Dollar Bill has sought to build on its rather direct and minimal style and thicken its sound textures. The tracks using studio techniques are successful and it seems to me, like a natural progression. However, I’m less convinced by some of the tracks with contributions by other collaborators. Where these pieces on previous works would have had a sparse structure, they have now been fleshed out to the detriment of the minimalist coherence. That said, the outstanding tracks, “I Was Real” and “New New/The Worm/Like Laundry” have benefited from these contributions. Maybe it’s the length of these two that has allowed the musicians to fully explore the themes here and I hope that these are examples of the musical direction of recordings to follow.

Kevin Ward