Chicago Avant-Prog Pioneers CHEER-ACCIDENT
Return After a Six-Year Hiatus with Putting Off Death,
a Predictably Unpredictable Celebration of their
Unlikely Longevity and Tireless Originality
Putting Off Death
Cat. #: Rune 446, Format: CD / LP / Digital Download
Genre: Rock / Avant-Progressive
Release Date: May 12, 2017
Against all the odds, in the face of an unstable record industry that never embraced their restless experimentation, Chicago avant-rock pioneers CHEER-ACCIDENT have survived to release their 18th album, Putting Off Death. More than 30 years after first joining forces, fellow eclecticists Thymme Jones and Jeff Libersher have faced down the inevitable and returned with a new set of songs that’s as unpredictable, exploratory and viscerally compelling as anything they’ve released over the course of their erratically evolving career.
Putting Off Death, with Libersher’s evocative cover painting, may suggest a sense of whiling away the hours until the final curtain falls, but sonically it’s more like a game of three-dimensional chess with the Grim Reaper.
The music is action packed and filled to the brim with living, breathing humanity. The band’s continuing hunger bleeds through in the music’s immediacy. As Jones says, “There's still something to prove.”
The band’s third release for Cuneiform follows in the elusive, meandering trajectory of their earlier work, which is always instantly identifiable if never quite definable. They’ve managed to conjure a unique collage of intricate prog, lush pop and experimental noise, drawing on the disparate influences of Pere Ubu, King Crimson, Can, Art Bears, Wire, early Genesis and Yes, and the more Baroque leaps of the Beatles and the Beach Boys without ever settling on a sound that could be definitively traced to any of them in isolation.
Following their previous release, No Ifs, Ands or Dogs, after a gap of six years, Putting Off Death is on the one hand simply an assertion that “We’re still here” from a band that never expected to be. CHEER-ACCIDENT continues to make vital, adventurous music after three decades despite - or maybe because of? - a revolving cast of collaborators (more than a dozen musicians are featured), a notoriety in uneasy balance with an accompanying obscurity, and a fair share of the kind of tragedies that have ended lesser (and maybe a few greater) bands, most notably the sudden death of guitarist Phil Bonnet of a brain aneurysm in 1999.
“I remember asking Jeff at that time how long he saw doing this,” Jones recalls. “I was kind of floundering and didn't really see us as having a band at that point, but he said, ‘It’s a till I die kind of thing.’ That inspired me to keep going, and it’s been a series of little moments like that, where we realize it’s still worth it somehow, ever since.”
In the unusually long span since the band’s last release, the music industry has undergone seismic changes, which led CHEER-ACCIDENT to question whether traditional albums were still the ideal platform for their music. In the meantime, they continued to write music until the seven songs that make up Putting Off Death revealed their thematic and musical coherence and virtually demanded to become an album.
Listening to the singular blend of invention and accessibility, challenge and chemistry throughout the new album, another meaning for Putting Off Death emerges. Complacency can be its own kind of death, one that CHEER-ACCIDENT defiantly laughs in the face of. Seeing too many so-called “progressive rock” bands become calcified by life-squelching technical perfectionism and virtuosity for its own self-congratulatory sake, Jones and Libersher have adhered to the forward-thinking definition of the term “progressive” while subverting and diverting from the genre with cleverness and abandon.
The album’s epic opener, “Language Is,” presents the CHEER-ACCIDENT sound in microcosm, constantly shifting and transforming throughout its 11-minute length, frequently disarming the listener without ever becoming aggressively alienating. In its early moments it’s a lovely, lyrical piano ballad that becomes gradually complicated by staggered rhythms before erupting into an angular freneticism. That resolves into a droning, agitated ambience which veers briefly into an off-kilter approximation of jazz improvisation that coheres into a tense, stabbing horn fanfare that is finally corrupted in a static burst of aural entropy.
The song’s lyrics croon a theme that became inadvertently central to the album: the elusiveness of capturing the richness and complexity of the human experience through language, the inadequacy of words to communicate the full breadth of emotion. “Language is only the sound of what is no more,” Jones sings, a sentiment made even more potent in “Hymn,” which asserts that “Hemingway never wrote about shooting metaphors into his mouth.”
The lyrics for the latter song were written by keyboardist and vocalist Amelie Morgan, who doesn’t actually perform on the album which points to a distinguishing characteristic of CHEER-ACCIDENT: there seem to be multiple, parallel incarnations of the band at any given time. One is a tight live group, which in its current incarnation has featured Morgan and bassist Dante Kester for the last several years; while the other is a more amorphous studio concoction, able to realize a more densely layered idea of what the band is.
“People who are used to a certain idea of what a band is might quickly get very frustrated with this approach,” Jones admits, “but it’s really been working well for the last decade or so. On stage we have a real band dynamic, but then there’s another stream of activity happening simultaneously.”
That more expansive definition of what a band can be also encompasses Scott Rutledge, who has been CHEER-ACCIDENT’s chief lyricist for more than 25 years. Rutledge co-wrote four of the new album’s seven songs with Jones, who calls him “a key figure in the CHEER-ACCIDENT world. I can’t imagine what it would be like if we hadn’t been working with him for all these years because I get too attached to the sound of a syllable and can’t write actual, meaningful words. We definitely consider him to be a member of the band.”
Rutledge’s contributions include the lively, dramatic “Immanence,” featuring the fervently alluring vocals of Carmen Armillas, the lyrics of which gave the album its title; the percussive “More and Less,” which sounds like the folk music of some alien tribe combined with an example of the band’s unique take on math-pop; and the jangling “Lifetime Guarantee,” a collision of rock anthem and Zappa antics. Jones’ “Wishful Breathing” is a further elaboration and abstraction of the Beatles’ tape-manipulation psychedelia, while “Falling World” tosses the band onto jagged shores lined with barbed-wire guitar.
As Jones suggested, these are songs that ask questions, ones that can only be answered in the mindspace of the receiver. Putting Off Death, he says, is “not a complete thought. It's a question awaiting an answer. It requires an audience with which to interface. Others' ears and minds are required to complete the story.”
CHEER-ACCIDENT have performed at numerous rock and progressive music festivals worldwide, including the acclaimed Rock in Opposition Festival (2013) in France. They recently shared the stage with Tortoise, and this summer they’ll perform two Chicago shows with Free Salamander Exhibit, who consist of former members of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (whom CHEER-ACCIDENT frequently played with in the past). To support Putting Off Death, CHEER-ACCIDENT’s Summer 2017 tour schedule will include numerous shows throughout the USA, including concerts in Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and other Midwest cities, in addition to a tour of the East Coast. They’ll also be performing in Europe; on Sept. 15, 2017, CHEER-ACCIDENT return to France to perform again at the Rock at Opposition Festival.
ARTIST WEB SITES
www.cheer-accident.com - www.facebook.com/CheerAccident - www.twitter.com/cheeraccident - www.cuneiformrecords.com
CHEER-ACCIDENT - TOUR DATES: 2017
June 16 USA Dreamland
June 17 USA The Pilot Light
June 20 USA Infinite Room
June 21 USA Nightlight
Chapel Hill, NC
June 22 TBA
June 23 TBA
June 24 USA Rhizome
6950 Maple St NW
July 29 USA Shafly Tap [with Yowie]
St Louis, MO
July 30 USA Record Bar [with Free Salamander Exhibit]
Kansas City, MO
July 31 USA Beat Kitchen [with Free Salamander Exhibit!]
2100 W. Belmont Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
August 1 USA Radio Radio
September 15 FR Rock In Opposition Festival
Le Garric 81450, France
September 16 FR TBA
September 17 FR TBA
September 19 FR Mora Mora
September 20 FR TBA
September 22 DE Freakshow Art Rock Festival
[with Poil and Le Silo]
September 23 CH OFF