Artist: Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra
Album: Nine Doors (2010)
Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra. That’s gotta be one of he best band names of all time.Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra. Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra. It’s so satisfying to say. It’s almost as satisfying to type out, time and again. Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra. The best thing about the name is that it’s wholly accurate: Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra are a troop of musicians based in a certain district of Manchester who come together to make music from all kinds of instruments, including bicycles. They’ve been a going concern for a few years now, but this is their debut release; a full-length CD album (or download if you’re so inclined) capturing nine of their collective improvisations for posterity and general confusion.
“Marlon. Marlon Brando are you the famous film star?”
And he says, “yes I’m afraid I am.”
“Why aren’t you happy with your existence?”
“Well that’s the question isn’t it?”
Confusion? Yes. It’s not like they don’t warn you: open up the beautifully packaged CD, pull out the bonkers fold-out poster and look on the back; you’re confronted with what reads like the ramblings of an insane man and a small disclaimer: “All lyrics improvised at time of recording and sung by Zeke S Clough”. Pity the fool that volunteered to transcribe them.
Zeke S. Clough (voice, synthesizer, percussion), perhaps better known for his insane artwork for Skull Disco that also adorns this release, is just one of the quartet of fearless improvisers that make up Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra. Huw T. Wahl (bicycle percussion, clarinet, piano, voice), David M. (for Magnus) Birchall (bass, small instruments, percussion, voice) and Josh J. Kopecek (synthesizer, piano, flugelhorn) are the other constituent parts that make up this glorious whole.
So what is the sound of confusion? The album opens up with some typically deranged moans from Zeke, before some clattering of bicycle percussion, fizzing pedals and rhythmic random percussion. This builds up to a point of tension before Zeke begins his first sermon, quickly accompanied by bass thrums and other assorted layers before it all collapses into the next song. “Starved Dog” features a piano accompanying what sounds like someone playing a bass guitar with a slide, a kazoo and god knows what else. “Oily Film” features what sounds like the ghost of crazed organist playing the soundtrack toChopper Chicks in Zombietown, accompanied by creaks, groans and moans and the odd whoop here and there. “Whale in a Duckpond” almost sounds like an actual, recognisable song at various points, with some welcome musicality as David plays the bass like an upright and Zeke croons in his best Geno Washington impersonation. Then it all goes wrong; maggots start crawling over the windows and hell gradually breaks loose. “Marlon Brando”? Well, you know how that one goes. Everything starts falling apart by the time we reach “Primate Engineer” and Huw’s clarinet starts wailing over the top of abstract piano phrases, phased bass rumbles and some beatboxing. Eventually it all comes to a crashing, triumphant halt with final track “Nine Doors”, which runs a full 20 minutes and encapsulates virtually everything that precedes it, mutating from broken-down church organ jam to skeletal percussion workout to bizarre melody hopscotch, all held together by another bizarre, nonsensical story. A glorious hymn to the power of collective free improvisation, it’s probably the finest moment on this fantastically cock-eyed album.
“Nine Doors” is the sound of what happens when you lock four like-minded musical voyagers in a room for 2 days and distill their inevitable improvisations down to something that approaches the coherent “music” your lazy brain desires. Live, Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra must sprawl all over the place as they take different paths towards collective enlightenment. On record, you’re served the mere highlights of their wanderings, jumbled-up and thrown together to create this mind-flaying assemblage of sounds, textures, noises, words and song. Running nicely over an hour, it might be too much to take in at one sitting, but keep listening and it’s the collective inspiration that frazzles your mind. Awesomely inspired and dazzlingly weird, simply nothing sounds like Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra.
LBO are out in the mainland of Europe right now blowing minds night after night. If you’re anywhere near anywhere they’re playing, I suggest you take a trip and check them out: