You Know What...?

The Aristocrats

BOING! Music LLC, 2019

http://the-aristocrats-band.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/18/2019

Instrumental music lives in its own universe. With no words to clarify and ground the intentions of a song, it becomes all about feel and mood and attitude—all qualities that virtuosic instrumental trio the Aristocrats deliver in abundance.

Having issued three enthusiastically-received albums and mounted several successful tours, the trio—Guthrie Govan (guitar), Bryan Beller (bass), and Marco Minneman (drums)—are well-positioned to do exactly what they do on this particular outing, i.e. whatever they want. You Know What…? presents nine tracks and 60 minutes of sometimes proggy, sometimes shreddy, sometimes fusion-y, thoroughly unpredictable instrumental music that’s completely unmoored from the commercial mainstream. That degree of musical free-spiritedness has a lot of upside, and also some downside.

Skronky, all-over-the-map opener “D Grade Fuck Movie Jam” establishes the prevailing attitude quickly, attacking and receding at more or less random intervals, diving from guitar pyrotechnics to a slow jam to a brief bass solo all in the first 50 seconds. There’s something in this Beller composition that feels a little like a chorus hook at around 1:50, but they quickly devolve it and go screaming off on a fresh tangent. You’re reminded at times here and elsewhere that Beller and Minnemann backed Joe Satriani for 2015’s Shockwave Supernova, but Satch’s tunes tend to have some structure and flow. The aforementioned hook returns around 5:05 and stays a little longer this time, lending this otherwise chaotic tune some semblance of melodic identity.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The trio’s playfulness remains at full force for the limber “Spanish Eddie,” a Govan composition that sees him revving the band’s engines up and down, quiet and loud, with a distinctly Spanish lilt throughout. Minnemann takes the compositional reins for “When We All Come Together,” a tune that alternates passages of athletic lyricism with a series of frenetic country-western-tinged themes, shifting tempos, time signatures, and musical personalities like a spinning kaleidoscope. (The three members each wrote three of these tracks, all of which were self-produced by the band.)

Next up, Beller’s gentle, bluesy “All Said And Done” offers an appealing interlude, buoyed by his nimble bassline, before Govan’s “Terrible Lizard” comes thundering in with fat chords carrying enough sustain to knock down buildings. Minnemann’s “Spiritus Cactus” offers more space and dynamics and something resembling a hook; then Beller’s “The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde” starts out soft before building to a widescreen frenzy.

Minnemann’s “Burial At Sea” stays airy and thoughtful for all of 1:40 before going full Sybil (or should that be Zappa?) into a prog-metal section that alternates with quieter bits for the rest of its shambolic six and a half minutes. Things chill out a bit once more as the Govan closer “Final Orders” arrives, starting out airy, lilting, and contemplative, with nimble bass work from Beller featuring early. It’s a standout track that emphasizes atmosphere and charisma over the insouciant attitude heard elsewhere. There’s a bit of a ramp-up in the fourth minute, but Govan keeps it relatively concise, and the boys fall back into a lengthy, jazzy, pushing-and-pulling third section that carries the song to its 8:33 finish.

There’s no question about the musicianship of this group; it is simply world class. The moments when the Aristocrats fall short for this particular listener are when their cleverness outstrips their musicality. Too many times within individual tracks they take sharp left turns whose only purpose seems to be to prove that they can do it. Is it impressive? Absolutely. Is it witty? Much of the time. Is it engaging? Less of the time.

You Know What…? presents music as pure play, with giddy, manic virtuosity thoroughly unleashed. There’s nothing wrong with that and I would guess it’s exhilarating for the players, especially ones with the exceptional chops possessed by Messrs. Govan, Beller and Minnemann. For this listener, though, this approach isn’t more than momentarily entertaining; it engages my ears, but not my heart. And my heart is the reason why I listen to music in the first place.

Rating: B

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© 2019 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of BOING! Music LLC, and is used for informational purposes only.