New solo album out now.
Evan Schiller has been a crucial presence in Seattle's thriving underground-music scene for 30 years, engineering records and sessions for Sun City Girls/Invisible Hands bassist/vocalist Alan Bishop's many projects, Eyvind Kang, Mike Patton, Bill Frisell, and many others while playing drums with Sadhappy, one of the region's most fascinating art-rock groups of the '90s.
After showing he could thrive in the avant-rock, jazz, and experimental genres, Schiller finally has produced his first full-length as a solo artist, 'uncomposed'. You can hear the decades of scrupulous studio wizardry and compositional ingenuity in every fateful moment. Schiller has distilled the skills honed in commissions for film, television, dance, theater, ads, and video games into cinematic high art for the ear. 'Uncomposed' is a gripping sojourn into finely calibrated, altered states of consciousness.
Creating scores for imaginary films practically has become its own genre. But few in the field have the nuance and instrumental versatility that Schiller flaunts on 'uncomposed'. It's a soundtrack roaming desolate plains in search of a suitably expansive and poignant movie, perhaps about a mysterious drifter in the American Southwest.
As a drummer, Schiller's obviously been immersed in the realm of rhythm, but for this record he's prioritized harmony, tonal color, and ambience. With assistance from Led To Sea's Alex Guy (violin and viola) and Secret Chiefs 3's Timba Harris (violin), Schiller sampled instruments, as well as Moog and ARP synths, hammered dulcimer, and guitar, weaves in field recordings, and then plays them at radically different pitches and speeds. According to Schiller, this allowed him to “create interesting chord changes that are both dissonant and beautiful, centering and disconcerting.” As a child, Schiller would listen to 33 1/3 rpm records at 16 rpm to achieve what he calls “that heavy, dark, scary sound.”
You can hear that approach in full bloom on 'uncomposed'. Opening track “the sloth” sets the scene for something momentous, as Guy's ebbing and flowing smears of viola give way to a stately procession through minimalist dulcimer notes and pensively plucked guitar. “july 4, 1988” bursts into life with faint clouds of guitar scree, morose strumming, and an icy piano motif before a ratcheting rhythm kicks in and then burgeons into an Einstürzende Neubauten-like stomp, eventually receding into intimate dulcimer and guitar interplay. The song exemplifies Schiller's mastery of dynamics. “methow valley” features a slow-motion guitar eruption under which you can hear traces of melodic beauty struggling to emerge from the maelstrom, like Sunn O))) in miniature.
Throughout 'uncomposed', Schiller blurs boundaries among noise, folk rock, ambient, and chamber music. Much of what makes these 11 tracks interesting is how they elude easy categorization. For instance, the way the gorgeous miasma of strings floats over stark, quasi-funky beats on “seasonal reproduction” could be a backdrop for the most melancholy rapper of all time. “descend if you may” places ukulele twangs amid a rich wall of strings that sways and swells with dignified grandeur. “falling” brings a series of explosions of indeterminate origin over which a rhythm skitters somewhere between post-rock and jazz. On album-closer “bronze,” Schiller conjures a shimmering drone that shifts from slate gray to burnished silver. The song is powerfully emotive without being manipulative or obvious with what it's trying to make you feel. Disorientation has never sounded so elegant.
-Dave Segal, Seattle, April 2020