With Sam Amidon on fiddle, his younger brother Stefan on drums, Thomas Bartlett on piano, and Keith Murphy on guitar and mandolin, Assembly (formerly
Popcorn Behavior but recently changed to this "less silly sounding" moniker) create a sparse but complex sound. The instruments appear to take only their rightful places in the five tunes on
January EP, as if they had cordoned off a specific area for each one. Balance is the key.
January EP starts with a fiery "Fast G Reel" selection that kicks it off with a bang. Sam's fiddle takes off at a run, with Stefan's drums seeming to struggle just to keep up the pace. Bartlett's piano is used for accent and wraps up the tune nicely. But, as it's hard to keep this eclectic band going in one direction for too long, they follow it up with the light and airy "Haapvesi/Wedding Dance" (composed respectively by Murphy and Bartlett). The transition is smooth and the lively track really gives Murphy's mandolin a chance to shine.
The members of Assembly play very well together, which is no surprise given that the Amidons and Bartlett have been performing as a unit for ten years, and that, though only recently made an official member, Murphy was considered a mentor to the trio (more history of the band -- including all their various incarnations, manifestations, and offshoots -- is available on their Web site,
The moody "Steampacket" never really gels. Despite solid work from the band (especially Sam Amidon and Thomas Bartlett), there is only ever potential failing to be reached. The redundancy of the slow melodic loop became monotonous after some time and the soloists did not take advantage of what I felt were several excellent opportunities for showing off their chops within the framework provided.
The blending of the two pieces that comprise "The Phoenix / Pyry" (composed respectively by Dave Hennessey and Kari Reiman) is impeccable. The delivery has some of the same problems as its predecessor but there is some creativity involved. Unfortunately, after a smooth run-through, it ends with the sonic equivalent of a vehicle pile-up, which dampens what positive effect there is.
Bartlett's "Slow G Reel" is the opposite bookend to the premier track on
January EP. Similar in structure to its quicker sibling, it's a pleasant revisitation to the reel style and, fully utilizing its six-minute running time, slowly leads the listener to a sense that things are about to end, so that when the album is over, there is no surprise. It's as if it were meant to be.
Leaving aside the shortcomings listed above, my main quibble with Assembly is something more insidious -- something that may not have an easy or simple solution. It is the sense that, though virtuosity and skill are ever present, there is no tangible passion for the music they're playing. It's as if they are doing their level best to get all the notes right without delving into the feelings behind them, which makes
January EP, ultimately, a very dry affair.
This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on
The Green Man Review. Copyright 2003. Reprinted with permission.
Assembly: January EP
Experimental Irish and American folk music played in the spirit of trance and indie-rock.
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