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CD Feature/ Dr. Bob: "Dark Times"

img  Tobias

Everybody has their own definition of radical and it changes over time. So let’s just say that for today, “Dark Times” is as radical as I can imagine an album to be. And, in a way, you can sense this coming just by reading the CVs of the two musicians involved here.

David Michalak, for one, is an experimental film director, whose works have still to be appear on the International Movie Data Base.If the screen shots of the leaf-filled mysticsm of “When the Spirit Moves” or the silhouettes of the Kate Foley dance ensemble in “Inside Out” are anything to go by, then his world is one of few words and a bewildering richness in visual means of expression – an impression further fortefied by the fact that he has scored a soundtrack to the 1928-black and white classic “The Fall of the House of Usher”, its ominous winding scarecases leading into the labyrinth of his absolutely incomparable lap steel manipulations. Bob Marsh, meanwhile, has a possibly even more colourful biography to his name, which we can not even try to summarise in the limited space of this article. Working with string sections in the microtonal spectrum, accordeon bands in stationary and marching mode, a combination of “violin, voice and tap shoes” as well as appearing as part of the “Quintessentials”, a quintet specializing in” interpreting graphic compositions based on alterations to the Michelin Road Guide to France”. It should  be abundantly clear by now, that these two men know no borders in their stance towards music and have a comfortable relationship with the grotesque – if that word makes sense within their personal spheres. What can be said with an angreeable amount of certainty is that their musical endeavours as “Doctor Bob” (a reference to Marsh’s childhood, which saw his mother repeatedly voicing her desire of him studying medicine) are lightyears from anything that is currently being recorded, released, performed or even thought about anywhere on this planet. While Michalak’s guitar figures move from delirious swoonsm deep croons and staccato pulsations to ambient textures, Marsh tears, plucks, grits, rubs and scrapes the strings of his cello to create directly physical, tortured and often abrasive noises, while throwing in seemingly random text fragments in a high-pitched helium voice. If this is truly intended to be “music as medicine for these dark times”, then it works according to the rules of homeopathics: With its mirror image of the outside world’s confusion and uncertainty, the album offers just so much of the poison to make the pain bearable.

The longer this review gets, the more I want to keep on writing about “Dark Times”, adding further details (such as Karen Stackpole’s almost caricaturesque drumming) and trying to finally get a hold on the sensations it evokes.  Solitude, surprise, shock, estrangement, these are all feelings one can associate with it, but which fail to capture its essence completely. The logical conclusion must be that Doctor Bob have in fact created a disc that is much more subtle than it appeared at the outset. And which will hardly be the most radical album in my book tomorrow.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Edgetone Recordings

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