In the time since their last album Amid The Noise, So Percussion have kept themselves quite busy. They toured North America with Matmos, teaming up on some mind-bending live performances, and are now back with Five (and-a-half) Gardens, another release that finds them working with several different artists.
That's really no surprise, as since their inception the group has performed with the Bang On A Can marathon and in other music festivals around the world while working with other musicians. This time out, they're joined by folk duo Trollstilt, as well as writer/composer/performer Rinde Eckert, and the CD/DVD release picks up where they left off and then runs in some completely new directions, likely inspired by their teaming up with the aforementioned artists. After a short spoken-word passage to open the release, things really get going with "Martin's Garden," and one can hear the new influences right away as some playful fiddling starts things off before drums and a slew of other percussive instruments and some guitar join in and start playing along with the off-kilter rhythm. Along the way, everything from police sirens to glitchy effects slipstream into the mix, and the sort of ramshackle song always sounds like it's on the verge of breaking down only to pick up again.
As the title states, the release is mostly broken up into five longer pieces named after gardens, with one shorter straggler arriving at the end. Surrounding these pieces are more sketch-like tracks, with spoken-word tracks and some even more experimental percussive pieces filling in the gaps. Even the longer pieces are fairly varied, although not all of them work completely successfully. "Matisse's Garden Lesson" is a gem, combining more odd percussion (including toy piano, marimba, and other clacks and knocks) with more sawing string instrumentation and sometimes forceful drumming.
On the other side of things, "Cat's City Garden (With Cage)" is much more impressionistic, with quiet plucked guitar, whispered/chanted vocals, and occasional percussive freakouts, while "Matisse's Coastal Garden" finds many of the same elements blurring together in lovely ways in places while stretching out for long, uneventful passages at times. As they've always done, So Percussion makes use of on-instruments for a lot of the sounds on the release (thematically including flower pots and watering cans), but the result still feels fairly scattered. Definitely not as smooth as Amid The Noise, Five (and-a-half) Gardens is just plain odd in most places, with great sections that are erased by bewildering ones. As mentioned above, this release also comes with a DVD that features motion paintings set to different music on the release, and it fits well with the album. As with their previous release, I don't feel like So Percussion have quite captured their full potential yet, but also as with their other effort, there's certainly moments to really enjoy here.