The debut EP from Speed Dealer Moms came out 11 years ago. The unlikely trio of John Frusciante, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist and late-blooming rave maven; Aaron Funk, who makes furiously virtuosic breakcore as Venetian Snares; and Chris McDonald, a comparatively little-known musician specializing in scorched-earth electronic noise, has been working together steadily since then. When their schedules permit, they gather to test the limits of various analog synths and drum machines, pushing their vintage equipment to extremes of velocity and intricacy that would stupefy any reasonable human collaborator. On SDM-LA8-441-114-211, their long-gestating second release, they’ve got 22 minutes of music to show for these years of experiments, apparently culled from a much larger archive. The brevity isn’t a problem. Each of the three tracks is so dense with musical information that it’s difficult to imagine processing even one more after the EP shudders to a close.
The first Speed Dealer Moms EP was one of Frusciante’s earliest forays into purely electronic music; if it was tempting to see him as a dilettante back then, time has proven that characterization unfair. He’s racked up multiple albums of fleet acid house and techno with his Trickfinger alias since SDM first appeared, and he released a reverent but rewarding collection of breakbeats and synth stabs under his own name last year. (If anything, it’s his recent return to the RHCP fold that now seems faintly puzzling.) Funk’s career path has always been as jittery as the rhythms of his own drum tracks; after the sweeping cinematics of his 2018 collaboration with Daniel Lanois, a return to the mayhem of the Moms makes as much sense as any other possible move. Given the restlessness of both men, and the low profile of McDonald, whose Skm-Etr project has an online footprint consisting of a few YouTube links and a handful of ultra-DIY releases cataloged on Discogs, it’s pretty much impossible to make an educated guess about who’s doing what at any given point during SDM-LA8-441-114-211. You get the sense that they like it that way.
For such a slap-happy and technologically inclined trio, Speed Dealer Moms have an old-fashioned, almost jazzy devotion to capturing the spontaneity of live performance. They program their synths, plan out a loose structure for a given track, and start jamming; what you hear on the record is what came out of the machinery that day, without edits or overdubs. Even their track titles resemble notes from some lost Blue Note session: the date, the take number, maybe the location. So it’s apparently just a coincidence that “April One 4” reads like a tribute to one of the best-known Aphex Twin compositions, though Richard D. James turns out to be a pretty good reference point for the way the music sounds. Not the placid solo piano of “Avril 14th,” but the organized clatter of his mid-’90s Hangable Auto Bulb era, when the glowing analog synths of his early work collided with the computer-assisted percussive freakouts of his later albums.
Speed Dealer Moms’ ability to generate the same sort of complexity in real time, without clicking and dragging clips around on a laptop screen, is impressive, even if they can’t always match James’ corresponding gift for clear and simple melody. The various elements of “April One 4” clearly have some rhythmic relationship with one another, but for most of the track’s duration, you’d have a hard time figuring out what it is. A handclap pattern nearly syncs up with a bubbly arpeggio, then races off in the other direction; some obscure subdivision of the beat takes over for a few moments and starts to supplant the main pulse. It feels a bit like peaking hard on a cocktail of stimulants and psychedelics: Everything is moment by moment, with little opportunity to process one sensory overload before the next one takes over. When it all coheres into a loping four-on-the-floor pattern for the track’s final minute and a half, it’s more surprising than any of the hyperactive feints that came before. I’m torn between admiration for the trio’s uncompromising approach and a wish that they’d ease off the intensity a little more often, let the music breathe like it does here.
“LA August 1,” the 11-minute opener, is the EP’s most satisfying track, and perhaps its most accessible, despite the imposing runtime. Without close attention, it might whir by as an undifferentiated mass of beeps and stutters, but focused listening reveals an elegant compositional arc, with a handful of themes arriving in various combinations over a stately repeated bass line. If you’ll permit a tortured comparison, it reminds me of an IDM update on Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D—processional music for acid-fried ravers. “April Two 11,” the closer, isn’t so friendly. The trio abandons the anchor of the kick drum, leaving only intersecting buzzsaws of cymbal and snare, with occasional globs of synth bass filling in the gaps. The “dance” part of the IDM equation has become purely notional at this point, if it wasn’t already. By the end, the Moms have just about left rhythm behind altogether, in favor of screaming feedback and bellowing drone. It’s as if the machines, brought to the breaking point and beyond, have finally given up.
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