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Yeah Yeah Yeahs Drummer + Avant Pianist = Brain-Melting ‘Dub Narcotic Session’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Label: New Atlantis

As one-third of art-rock institution Yeah Yeah Yeahs, drummer Brain Chase has earned Grammy noms, played the world’s arenas, and sold a shit-ton of records, so he shouldn’t have time for moonlighting, right? Wrong. Akin to the musical facelift he, Karen O and Nick Zinner applied to the Williamsburg soundscape 15-odd years ago, the drummer colossus has counterbalanced YYY’s fame by directing his intricate brand of beatage into juicing up his hometown’s improvisational scene.

Traveling a similar avant-garde path as his percussionist guru, Susie Ibarra—she’s collabbed with John Zorn and Thurston Moore, among myriad other legends—Chase can be found at crucial DIY nooks engaging in improv shootouts with Brooklyn’s foremost practitioners of earth-shaking extreme music, including sax skronker Chris Pitsiokos, guitar shredders Ron Anderson and Alan Licht, and, on a broader scale, as a cohort in Oneida’s Kid Millions’ drum circle brigade, Man Forever. Chase even dropped a solo record titled Drums and Drones, which featured, you guessed it, lots of drums and drones.

Chase’s latest foray into the “out” regions was supposed to have been a collaboration with legendary man-child Jad Fair and improvising keys virtuoso Thollem McDonas (now who wouldn’t want to hear that?!). But after the Half Japanese leader fell ill, the project morphed into a duo as Chase—who’s jousted with horns, six-strings and beats—hooked up with piano stabbing, experimental nomad McDonas for Dub Narcotic Session, named after Calvin Johnson’s K Records studio where it was captured.

As it turns out, Fair’s contorted guitar fireworks weren’t necessary (sorry, Jad). On Dub Narcotic Session, McDonas and Chase combust just fine on their own, spazzing out on manic jazz-punk that ranges from two-minute hard chargers to a 19-minute odyssey. Session unfolds like a conversation: There’s Chase, the tireless, multi-armed sticks monster letting loose a cache of thwacks, thumps, booms, brushes, crushes and strokes, then there’s McDonas, whose raging-yet-fluid keys pulverization makes for an assaultive back and forth.

But while Session does have its aggressive improv moments (McDonas doesn’t so much tickle the ivories as pound all 88 of’em) it’s not all skronk warfare. The adventurous twosome has a knack for melody rooted in their ecstatic jazz backgrounds. In “Dis-Mis-Education,” they explore warped, avant-bar-room blues, while “Scavengers and Nomads” and “Where We Come From” probe classi-kill doom, and “Mind Control Free For All” is a full on no wave noise chugger that would make Karen O proud. Indeed, Brian Chase swings all-encompassing, percussive double duty with brain-melting results.