Tag Archives: chris svoboda

[Review: Kristachuwan, ‘Pterodactyl Fish’]

Chris Svoboda is a multi-media artist who provides both a sonic underpinning and visual flash for his band Cinnamon Aluminum, an indie-psych trio out of Buffalo. Sonically, Svoboda handles beats, electronics, and saxophone; visually, he contributes artwork for the group’s album covers and designs the projections used in live performances. With Pterodactyl Fish–under his solo moniker Kristachuwan–Svoboda has built a bridge between his two roles as audio and visual artist by creating what he rightly calls a video album. The result is potent blend of swirling digital imagery and animation with pulsating electronic beats and psychedelic synths. Visual motifs closely follow musical cues (or perhaps its the other way around) while the movement of animated figurines are synced in hypnotic fashion to rhythmic sounds of all kinds.

While Animal Collective’s ODDSAC is perhaps the easiest reference to compare Pterodactyl Fish to since the two visual albums are psychedelic experimentations with the synthesis of audio and visual, there are other specific visual references within Pterodactyl Fish that film or visual culture aficionados will certainly appreciate. For instance, there a number of motifs that seems to spring from an appreciation of Japanese culture, including samurai mythology and anime characters. The neon outlined samurai that stoically stalks the viewer on “Samurai Haircut” (which was modeled by Cinnamon Aluminum band mate Mike Schroeder) could easily be a re-animated character from Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai.

Other visual influences that seem to be referenced include 1960s acid test projections, Adult Swim, early music videos, and all types of low-budget greenscreen work that you might stumble upon on public access television at 3am. All of these references, however, only explain the expansive visual grammar used within this project. One could perhaps  argue (unconvincingly) that the visual element of Pterodactyl Fish, on its own, is just a string of images linked together by a hipster film student; the beauty here though lies in Svoboda’s ability to beautifully interweave all of these disparate images and then interlock them with music that perfectly complements them to create a single, unified audio-visual experience.

[vimeo:https://vimeo.com/34741456%5D

At times, the work does have the feel of an MFA project; some transitions are a bit too abrupt, some motifs feel as if they have been discarded before they have culminated into their full expression. Regardless of these minor flaws—and their descriptions as ‘flaws’ is debatable—this is the work of a talented visual mind, one that is clearly going for it.

Watching Pterodactyl Fish might be akin to reading an early short story by a great author who would later go on to develop a distinctive and recognizable voice. Initially, however, that distinctive voice may not have quite translated itself out of the mind of the artist and onto the page, or in this case the screen in front of the viewer. The creative training wheels haven’t quite come off as the artist is forced to lean on homage a little longer before the truly unique creative voice emerges. But anyone who appreciates the creative process and artistic development must intrinsically sense this and be thrilled by the audacity of Svoboda’s efforts here and where he might be going next.

Regardless of what may or may not be in store for Svoboda, as musician or visual artist, this particular work right here really deserves to be seen in a communal theater setting on a large screen with its electronically pulsating sounds pumping out of a solid speaker system. It is laced with stunning visual ideas some that last ever so briefly, as if they were only tiny ideas meant to evolve into a more expansive and important idea. What exactly is that important idea? Hard to say, but it is certainly worthwhile trying to figure it out.

[vimeo:https://vimeo.com/35927925%5D

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Review by Jamie Moore


[Review: Cinnamon Aluminum, ‘We Ate the Wrong Crab Spirit’]

Since the release of Cinnamon Aluminum’s 2010 debut album, Mad Monty in the 8th Dimension of Nine, the Buffalo trio have proved to be a music writer’s wet dream. Their unique and seemingly effortless re-configuration of all the right strands of experimental indie/rock into a throbbing acid-drenched soundtrack transports hard-to-please listeners to a place they’re always hoping to go, but can seldom find a ride to.

And while the group’s first album–and ensuing EP Holdin’ It Up–proved to be sufficient vehicles for taking listeners on that trip, their new album, We Ate the Wrong Crab Spirit, marks the first time that the band provides first-class accommodation to all those ready to undertake the journey. What is the name of this dementedly humorous and scifi-infused virtual destination where psychedelic characters like Mad Monty and a tripping robot roam freely, you ask? Perhaps the name of their label, Level 4 Activated, is more than the name a simply a label . . .

Regardless, Cinnamon Aluminum doesn’t get by just because they have the right influences. In fact, they even manage to dip into the wells of lamer musical genres like trance and jam band—as on “Eighteen Four (End of the Robot’s Dream)”—without getting cornered by the inherent corniness of those sounds. Instead, it’s as if the trio is dropping into these worlds for a brief moment to show the musicians who never leave it how it is done before zooming along to the next world.

This should come as no surprise considering the collision of influences that occur across their three releases. When the band’s three multi-instrumentalist members–Zach Acard (aka Kid On Purpose), Chris Svoboda (aka Kristachuwan), and Mike Schroeder (aka Milk Soda)–put their heads together, their sound takes on shades of Devo, Zappa, Panda Bear/Animal Collective, Of Montreal, Atlas Sound, P-Funk, and Kraftwerk, to name a few of the more obvious.

The song “Swing Swar” is reminiscent of the saturated wall-of-sound that Canadian producer David Newfeld pioneered with Broken Social Scene on albums like You Forgot it In People; a swollen sound field punctuated by frantic, but subtle electronic whirring and buzzing at the edges that creates  a sonic foundation that is felt, as opposed to simply heard. On top of this, Cinnamon Aluminum rests crisp, treble-heavy guitars, tightly wound and tense drum patterns, and chanting vocals that sound like they were recorded in the Grand Canyon.

Another highlight is “When I Was You,” which melds the grimy horn-fueled electro of Beck’s Odelay period with modulated disco synths, which then ends in a spectacular duel between Svoboda’s fluttering saxophone and a lone syncopated synth.

The highlight of the album, though, is no doubt its anthemic centerpiece “Forest of Leisure.” This densely layered electronic track is anchored by a funky groove that slowly morphs alongside shimmering melodic flourishes. This is also where the vocal-trading duties of Schroeder and Acard realize their full potential. The ‘he’s tripping/I’m tripping/we’re tripping‘ call-and-response between the two is musically as good as it gets and also perfectly captures the exhilaration of a collaborative hallucinogenic adventure.

Regardless of the sci-fi narrative or concept that underlies We Ate the Wrong Crab Spirit, it seems that the entire album–and everything else that the three members of the group do under the banner of Level 4 Activated–is in the spirit of a collaborative hallucinogenic adventure. Fortunately, they record those adventures so that the rest of us can tag along.

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Review by Taylor Waite

 NOTE: Cinnamon Aluminum will be in studio for this week’s episode of The Upstate Soundscape to play tracks off of We Ate the Wrong Crab Spirit. Tune in at 10pm on Wednesday night (4/18) to 91.3 FM WBNY. Stream at WBNY.org.

Also, Cinnamon Aluminum will be having an album release party on 4/20 (of course) at the Vault. More info here.