Tyondai Braxton - Central Market
Simon Jay Catling 26/09/2009
Should Tyondai Braxton have had the chance to listen to Matt Bellamy's three part symphony, shoehorned in at the end of Muse's fifth studio album, it's unlikely that the Battles front man would have found it to be the "unbearably pretentious" creation so claimed by critics. More than likely he'd have given a nod of vague appreciation, and turned back to the full orchestra responsible for bringing his second solo album, Central Market, to life.
You see, Bellamy composes statements; the idea of a three-piece rock group featuring a fifteen minute classical piece in their album is more dominant than the resulting piece itself. For Braxton, in both his solo and collaborative work, there's always been the feeling that he creates to challenge no one but himself; any resulting fans are just a happy by-product of his path to self-satisfaction. It was no surprise then that Battles' Mirrored was such a restless album, an eternal search to find musical harmony; it's no surprise that Central Market is similar in that particular aesthetic; and it's not even that surprising that he's gone as far as enlisting the help of Wordless Music Orchestra to help push his boundaries even further. A renowned perfectionist, Braxton has nevertheless proved in the past he doesn't mind other members in to help shape his twisted sculptures, so long as the finished product still remains undeniably his.
Such is the intricate detail that's been put to record here, to lazily label it as mere pretension would be extremely wide of the mark. For pretension you need to look at the aforementioned Bellamy, and to LA proggy-wigouts The Mars Volta, whose desperation to appear clever often leads to distinct feelings of pilot-less missions. On Central Market, Braxton is most definitely in charge; there's rarely a point on the album where you don't feel like he's moving towards something, whether it be following a garden path up a winding string crescendo on 'Platinum Rows', or plummeting to the bottom of 'Unfurling's' queasy etherealness. 'Platinum Rows' is the centrepiece by the way: a constantly sound shifting, ten minute journey that sounds like a soundtrack to an old Disney cartoon gone warped. It starts in a whirl of euphoria that quickly disperses in a flurry of flutes and- is that a kazoo?- before morphing into a trumpeting call to arms; the musical equivalent of storm-infused waves crashing on rocks. Braxton's familiarly indecipherable vocals are a feature, but voice is very much an afterthought here; the piece relies instead on an ever changing spiral of strings over resolute percussion to jump and run, to twist this way and that. Yet they never completely let go of a jagged stomp of a template; a refrain that battles bravely amongst the clamour surrounding it; there's so much going on, it's almost impossible to justify with words.
If the rest of the album doesn't quite reach this dizzying peak, it's not for want of trying, and Braxton's joining together of traditional classical instruments with more experimental electronic sounds is to be applauded. 'Opening Bell' is a buoyant, playful introduction, jumping with effortless grace over a squelchy low-frequency buzz, with varying strict staccato and brooding legato. Clarinets thread through the entire track, as though vainly trying to tug free of a force field pulling them back to the stoical percussion. Through the course of the album, this constant rhythm outs itself as a key factor in preventing the whole tapestry from blowing off in a flurrying gust; like it might if, say, Omar Rodriguez was in charge. 'Uffie's Woodshop' switches tact and rides along on a bundle of urgency and excitement; tumbling down into a sickly carnival-esque squall. And it says something when a song that bares most resemblance to Braxton's work in Battles, the math-rock thud of 'J. City', can be considered one of the more unremarkable on the album.
By its very concept of an avant-rock musician playing at classical composer, Central Market is by no means an easy listen. There's a fidgety nature to every second that's covered in noise, and by 'Dead Strings' stop-start finale, you might be tempted to break down crying in as a result of the sheer levels of concentration that have drained over the previous forty minutes. It's almost impossible not to be impressed by the level of ambition in evidence, though, and, after a frenzied search through a jigsaw box trying to find the right pieces; Braxton comes up with a record to match. >Central Market will likely go unheard by most of those who've reacted with a range of nonplussed and shocked emotions to 'Exogenesis', but it's not like the New York musician would care anyway. And should Matt Bellamy ever get asked to compose anything like this? He'd be shitting himself.