Inveterate tricksters play it with a straight(er) bat.
Spencer Grady 2011-07-05
There’s a story concerning Chicago’s Cheer-Accident that goes something like this: every summer, during a five-year period from 1994 onwards, the group would gather in a local park and play the culminating riff of the same song (Filet of Nod) for up to nine hours. It made little sense, commercial or otherwise. But it’s far from being an isolated incident of absurdity during a career spanning over 30 years (they formed New Year’s Day, 1981), a catalogue of self-sabotaging strategies.
Group founder Thymme Jones also hosts, along with other members of the ever-changing Cheer-Accident cast, Cool Clown Ground, a weekly Dada-esque comedy show that continues to confound viewers of Chicago’s public-access television broadcasts. The band’s music has always reflected these spoiling tactics; bewildering and frustrating in equal measure, conflating misappropriated components of ill-fitting genres, a hodgepodge of conflicting styles. Occasionally brilliant, the in-jokes would often obscure the reward.
Cheer-Accident’s move to Cuneiform, and the release of 2009’s Fear Draws Misfortune, witnessed a distinct shift in yield. While far from being predictable (Cheer-Accident could never be that), it saw many of the more exasperating inclinations ironed out and additional sweeteners offered in the form of pronounced, protracted bouts of undiluted melodicism. The disparate elements were finally beginning to coalesce.
This incremental crawl to a newfound accessibility continues on the marvellous No Ifs, And or Dogs, documenting a streamlined reconfiguration of progressive (not prog) rock recalling past Fred Frith projects such as Henry Cow and Art Bears, or even Soft Machine prior to Robert Wyatt’s departure. Sure, glimpses of bloat – of Yes, King Crimson, and even Comus – bubble to the fore, but whenever the group threaten to capsize under the burden of extraneous gristle along comes a track like the disarmingly charming piano-led, horn-laden Cynical Girl (with Jones delivering a deliciously honeyed lead vocal) or the splendorous Sleep, with its fittingly dreamlike fairy tale vistas. At such moments, Cheer-Accident leave behind the befuddlement of their past and commence hitting home runs from out of the same ballpark as The Beach Boys and Van Dyke Parks.