Mute Duo – 5amSky
4.28.23 by Matty McPherson
What time do the readers of Tabs Out wake up at? I’ve never asked that and I take the whole asynchronous thing with a whiff of serendipity. I imagine most people who read this get up sometime around 6-9 AM local time. 5:50 AM is just out of that range and too bloody early, but I used to pull myself up then, or at 5:07 AM and walk in darkness to the job site to either deliver pastries or brew a giant vat of coffee. I do miss the colors of those spring skies by the lagoon. Unfortunately, the color of dark twitter DMs at 5:30 AM don’t hit the same. Most days now, I wake up sometime shortly after 7 and if the house is empty, I fill the walls with sounds.
This morning is one of those fortunate mornings, currently being soundtracked by Mute Duo. Do you remember Mute Duo? They were a band that definitely existed pre-pandemic on a fledgling American Dreams. Skyler Rowe on Drums/Percussion/Vibraphone & Sam Wagster handling the Pedal Steel amongst a drum machine, using their tools and the warmth of a studio space as canvas to impart naturalistic, rugged Americana. The kind that shimmers rays of sunlights and shakes the bristles of its tree needles with it. Well, Mute Duo have had a rather busy reemergence this April. There are new compositions for American Dreams, as well as this most curious 34 minute pre-Pandemic (2/29/20) live realization at the Empty Bottle; Chelsea Bridge, Matthew Lux, and Andrew Scotty Young join as auxiliary members that turn the Mute Duo into a Mute Quartet encroaching on a particular jammy sunday I’ve come to admire over the past few years. A thanks to the Sea and Cake as well alludes to a greater lineage that Mute Duo themselves are chained to: intersectional Chicago jamming
5amSky is grounded in a pulsing motorik, the kind of a steel engine on a flat plane where anything can happen. Mute Duo, even with these added members, are steadfast to that particular kind of jam. One that parallels Jake Acosta’s Rehearsal Park or one of the many Unifactor pocket worlds, but with a greater sense of anthemia guiding it. It only takes about half of the rather acute side A to lock into its devious jam as Rowe provides a steady beat for Wagster to draw out all the curls of the clouds and deepest of blues that a pedal steel’s chords can provide. It’s fluffy music, complete with a footwork to its beat that begs for revelrous dance; I sure hope those patrons pre-pandemic did so. Although I must admit the outro’s sudden distorted twang and electronic honkery is more…an electrified rodeo than the piece’s first ten minutes.
Side B meanwhile brings in the whole auxiliary band one piece at a time, slow burn. The nearly 22 minute affair has a whiff of a heist being pulled off, the kind of heist that you always imagine Tortoise would’ve soundtracked in ’99 but were never afforded. It’s opening minutes focus intently on a minimal rattly drum beat, augmented by bass effect and actual bass dancing off it, while a cymbal skips over it unhurriedly. It soon moves to focus on the drones of the bass n’ pedal steel while introducing the vibraphone that doodles about and compliments the drum beat. Chelsea Bridge’s strings meanwhile create these dustbowl arpeggios (that soar) that help complete the piece and move it to its sleek final form for the majority of the run time. Suddenly, the mute duo have concocted a loungey chill out dance track; one rather based in Americana. A dustbowl disco (well, for the mind) if you could imagine that. One that actively integrates wind chimes and electronics (and even noise splotches!) like a DJ finessing live samples into the mix. The B side’s groove is a particular kind of revelry and dance character that has not been effectively considered in recent American tape releases. The kind with such a viscosity to its character! Even as it turns into a deep fried lazer guided melody burst in the final third and drones out Charalambides style.
There’s been traces of a cosmic Americana in the curation that Unifcator and the newfound Astal Editions. Although, I’ve struggled to use or consider the term to describe the loose happenings in these (mostly) midwestern folk music that has its ear turned to krautrock-indebted jamming. There is an incredible canon of work that the last three years of Moon Glyph, Unifcator, Astral Editions, and a few other scattered releases have been dialoguing with one another. Yet, even as these folks have shared bills or acknowledged one another, the capacity for outright trance has been inconclusive, or at least are grounds that are only starting to be really acknowledged. Pulice’s work with Powers/Rolin feels like a groundbreaking here, as does the Power/Rolin certified curation of Mute Duo’s 5amSky. For a recording that’s 3 years old and uncirculated until now, it feels of the moment; a perfectly encompassment of electronic intermingling in jamming that stays grounded to its roots and isn’t afraid to shake its ass. Consider it amongst the year’s best.
Edition of 200 Available at the Astral Editions Bandcamp Page