Shatner’s Bassoon ‘The Self​-​Titled Album Shansa Barsnaan’ (Wasp Billionaire) 4/5

shansa-barsnaanAndre Previn probably wouldn’t like this. As the late, great Eric Morecambe once said to him: “I am playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.” Let’s be honest here, Shatner’s Bassoon isn’t going to be for everybody. My grandma wouldn’t like it, neither would my wife, or my son, and for that matter my two dogs wouldn’t care for it that much either… but ah, what do they know. Chances are you’ll wonder what the hell this band were thinking… If you were locked in a padded cell with nothing but three CD players to try out and you simultaneously put on a compilation of Frank Zappa’s weirder moments on CD player 1, Tim Berne’s experimental jazz on CD player 2, and a Doors instrumental track played backwards on CD player 3, you might be half way to understanding what this album sounds like. One has to raise the question; is this art, or are they taking the piss? In the same way that Tracey Emin’s art installation “My Bed” divided opinion, the music on “Shansa Barsnaan” will do the same. Essentially the six musicians that have come together as a collective to create this album fashion a hitherto unknown world of unique sound exploration that results in deconstructed tunes, anti-music and experimental imagery that combines the sinister, humorous and the surreal. If David Lynch hadn’t yet made “Eraserhead”, this would have been the perfect soundtrack.

The band responsible for this affront to music as we know it is; Johnny Richards; keys/electronics, Michael Bardon; bass, Oliver Dover; sax/clarinet, Craig Scott; guitar/electronics, Joost Hendrickx; drums/electronics, Andrew Lisle; drums. These six individual voices have spent the last three years exploring and developing their eclectic sounds and influences, to unify their minds as one collective. Their noise polluted world is inhabited by free improv sax blasts, odd electronics, percussive explorations and a whole host of mashed up thingamabobs being tinkered with and twisted into both tuneful and tuneless musings. The album was recorded at All Things Analog in Leeds by engineer/producer Tim Thomas who was given the challenging task of capturing the energy and organised chaos of the band’s live shows, while still allowing for the exploration of aesthetic possibilities in a studio setting. Can we clearly define the resulting music? No, of course not. Is it jazz, rock, ambient, shoeglaze, grunge, folk, metal, etc etc ? There really is no point asking such questions, just listen to what you hear and allow your brain to translate sound into vision and enjoy the pictures that come in to your head. Here are some of mine…

The opening track “Bruce Lawn” begins, albeit briefly, in catchy 80’s pop mode, before spiralling into fragmented jazz, conversational, scientific egg-head disparate discussions on the relativity of life. Angels and demons enter the fray. A psychological thriller keeping the listener on edge at all times. “Bruce Lawn Part 2” uses detuned instruments with often scary interludes. A painting with moving eyes, following you across the room. Chainsaw-head, undead creatures peeking out from behind drawn curtains. Tense, chilling and rather worrying, especially when the monsters attack, death-metal style at the end of the piece. May the blood-letting commence. A sci fi robot called George is the only possible explanation I can give for “Fringe in my eyes/Thighs in disguise”. He doesn’t understand me. I don’t understand him. “Mushroom/Fancy a Waltz” doesn’t dance, it jigs. Oddly funky in a jittery kind of way. It takes me longer to type “Mitch Fargone’s Walk To School” than it does to listen to it. An almost musical deep groove takes us into “The Advocates of Anti-Funk”. Broken beats and organic organ blend casually with guitar and bass. A lazy, drunken sailor plays his sax on a creaking, rotting, unseaworthy ship. This is “Boat Comforts/The Real Shim Lady” and its nautical adventure. Old haggard shagged out instruments duet with a coughing toad. Changing the subject matter somewhat, “DMT” reminds me (don’t ask me why) of Rik Mayal and Ade Edmondson performing their slapstick jiggery pokery in the classic TV series “Bottom”. It’s amusing, with more than the odd belly laugh. But wait, is that Les Dawson playing the piano? Yes, I think it is. They’ve brought him back from the dead to duet with Frank Zappa. They’re playing an Abba tune. ( no they’re not). “AABA”, cartoon like, headless chickens. “The Ballad of Long Egg” draws on its long, thin cigarette, a sense of pervading dread filling the caustic air. Musical manipulation of the twisted mind. Whilst “Inspector Fargone” walks its own surreal path, the instant classic that is “Boghead Wasp Speed” drives with a full tank of gas across a free spirited land of the brave, searching for its home of the free, leading us energetically into the closing track, the darkly subversive “Will You Be My Friend”. Yes I will Shatner’s Bassoon, because you scare me and make me smile at the same time.

For a more serious, musically investigating critique of this album, please look elsewhere. For an inexpert summary of how this music makes the listener feel along with the colourful visions it rewards you with, I have made my case. And I don’t need to take drugs any more, I have this album now. Well, apart from the sedatives, that is.

Mike Gates