Gary Lloyd Noland – FLAMMABLE COUNTERPOINT: A Pandora’s Tinderbox Of Tickletunes (Op. 126) – Album Review
I know what I’m looking to listen to here in review today…lemme see…I want something with like, a title that stretches over the traditional quick one line of text… Oh hey! Whaddya know? Would ya look at that. WHAT…DO…we have here? Gary Lloyd Noland…you sir, know just how to get me fully interested.
Where do I begin? How do I explain this?
So many things caught my eye & attention as I began this odyssey into Gary’s music & latest record. Obviously the title stands out, not just length-wise, but that’s heckin’ creative to start with…and of course, in this being my first experience with the man’s music and all, at first glance you see that number 126 at the end of the moniker for this album…and…well…I mean…that implies 125 OTHER compositions and/or records out there too, doesn’t it? And what about the curiously awesome titles of some of the tracks themselves? Songs like “Douchonaires In Space,” “Tardigrade Goofaloots,” and “Teeny Tiny Toilet Boys Bring Home Bacon From The Big Bad Zoocus Berserkus” – see anything that stands out to YOU? OF COURSE YOU DO! How could you not, right? Believe me when I tell ya, it gets even WEIRDER. You will find that Gary Lloyd Noland is joined by none other than the PIMPLETON PROCRASTURBATION ENSEMBLE – that’s right, you read that clearly in-print. You wanna know the BEST part about that though? You might actually recognize some of these amazing players he’s playing with if you’re paying real close attention – titans of the industry like Darnold Olly Yang, Lon Gaylord Dylan, Dolly Gray Landon, or Arnold Day Longly…surely you all KNOW these names or have seen them in some way, shape, or form before, haven’t you? Take a reallllllllllll close look…and then take another if you need it. I work with words all day long – every one of those names is an anagram for Gary Lloyd Noland.
There is going down the rabbit-hole, and then there is going down the rabbit-hole, trying to follow Gary.
That is, Dr. Gary. Oh yes – there’s MORE y’all…I haven’t even really begun to explain what I can outside of this record I’ve been listening to by Noland, but suffice it to say, he’s an extremely well-educated artist, with a PhD in Music Composition, he’s traveled all over the world, he teaches professionally and has taught at freakin’ HARVARD in the past, in addition to many other institutions of quality learning, he’s an author as well…somewhere in the neighborhood of like, three-HUNDRED videos online…you know, just your average, every day, typical story of a musician am I right? C’mon! The good doctor has built himself a lifetime immersed entirely in his art & craft and you know I’ve got nothing but love for that, and essentially everything I’ve seen & cited in this review as well. I dig the crazy cats on the fringe of our beautiful independent music-scene…and I’m thinking no one thrives on the fringe quite like Gary.
I remember hearing someone say something once to the effect of, “having a broad education in music teaches you all the rules, and once you know what they are, you know exactly which ones you want to break the most” – and I genuinely feel that applies to a lot of what Gary creates. For instance, as far as I can tell according the date-stamp on the Soundcloud release, FLAMMABLE COUNTERPOINT came out somewhere in January…and Gary’s gone and chosen to start his new album with a ‘Christmas tune’ – at least of sorts. “Xmas Holiday Memento From Old Salzburg” DOES indeed have some randomized holiday charm to it for sure…but it ain’t gonna be the normal yuletide tune you’d likely be expecting unless you’re familiar with this wonderful minstrel of madness’ work already. “Xmas Holiday Memento From Old Salzburg” sounds like the toys have come to life and have taken over the music studio…and every so often feel like they should lay down some stellar melodies for a brand-new record while they’re in there. For those out there like myself and presumably Gary – the audiophiles of this world – what’s not to love here? Gary doesn’t go into doing what he does with the expectation that EVERYONE out there is going to ‘get it’ – and nor should the pursuit of art ever even be about that to begin with; he knows this, and has embraced his innovative creativity like the asset it is, and roams around freely to compose as he sees fit. The results are a genuinely interesting and sparkling journey through “Xmas Holiday Memento From Old Salzburg,” which is by no means any typical kind of tune, but absolutely enticing to listen to. Trust me when I tell ya, you’ll put this on and realize you’ve probably heard nothing like it ever before. From the piano keys, door bells ringing, twinkling sounds, and bizarre oddities that swirl through an atmosphere that would be otherwise entirely serene…Gary likes a whole lotta sound, and I like a whole lotta Gary for this very reason. It ain’t gonna be for everyone & that’s okay – I already know it’s for me.
Layered GENIUS, if you ask me…that’s what I’m hearing in the man’s title-tune. I really love what this guy has done on this album, not even remotely kidding…Gary is such a truly gifted composer, he’s morphed into FIVE versions of himself, playing unique ideas with each of’em, all at the same time, and none of it makes sense, yet all of it does. Can someone explain how this all works to me? Sincerely – I listen to a track like “Flammable Counterpoint” and I just sit here trippin’ right out on the whole realm of sound Gary’s got colliding together, and how so much of what you’d likely typically associate with a ‘composition’ is largely relegated to the background – it’s the wild, weird, and bizarre that he’s got so proudly pronounced in front of the mix, and so we have to assume that THIS is the kind of creative-type our friend the good doctor really is. You don’t go into making “Flammable Counterpoint” ever expecting it to end up on the radio…that ain’t at all what this project is about, and thankfully so – this is living art, breathing through your speakers without apologies. And YES…I can acknowledge that, there’s an aspect of listening to a song like “Flammable Counterpoint” that completely feels like Gary is scrolling through his sound-bank in real-time, selecting different things at random without any real rhyme or reason – and you know something? Maybe that’s TRUE – I honestly do not know. All I know is what’s in the results I’m hearing…”Flammable Counterpoint” is constantly twitchy and never sits still, despite keeping this odd, chilled-out demeanor too…it’s a master-class in contrast from start to finish. You might struggle to get to the parts of the song that you really want to hear most, but that’s by design – “Flammable Counterpoint” keeps its craziness loud & proud upon the surface, but bored I guarantee you will not be.
According to the tags & whatnot that you’ll find with the album online, these ‘comprovisations’ do seem to stem directly from improv, rooted in free Jazz…which certainly makes sense based on all the untamed wildness you’ve heard in the opening of the album, and of course, it doesn’t just stop there. “Rudenoxious Interruptions” carries on the strange soundscapes of Gary Lloyd Noland, adding in that sparkling dimension of melody and unfolding his music like a story in song once again. While I can tell that the average everyday listener out there would probably still struggle a bit in trying to figure out where one track ends and the next begins…again, I’d assume that’s just A-OK to Gary. Hear it how you hear it, just listen, and experience something altogether different. I’m not here to get technical – this man has an education that exceeds my own in every capacity – and so perhaps it’s best to continue to simply relay the way a record like this makes my brain jump to this weird observation & that. I’m sure for those of you well-versed in theory & whatnot…you’d probably have all kinds of interesting opinions on what Noland creates that would be far different & more insightful than what I could tell ya after having a listen for yourself – all I know is that I dig people like Gary that choose to blaze a different trail. I’d be the first to admit, I wouldn’t be in the mood for FLAMMABLE COUNTERPOINT every single day that I’m rockin’ a playlist full of tunes…but I did also go years & years answering the question of ‘what do you listen to’ with a response of “anything that sounds like a broken answering machine” – so don’t get it twisted, don’t get me wrong – I don’t need everything to line up in a nice 4/4 pattern to hold my attention. Songs like “Rudenoxious Interruptions” are designed to make your brainwaves dance around and spark-up their synapses…and I’m mighty inclined to let that happen – I dig this kind of uniqueness.
The AWARD for BEST TITLE of a song this year however, is getting handed out right here in February, for “Douchonaires In Space” – no one’s gonna beat that, so just hand Gary the hardware and call it finito. With frequencies bouncing around, strange bending theramin-esque sounds, neon synth vibes, the ever-present piano, and like…a whole bunch of loose change dropping on the floor or something…”Douchonaires In Space” never lets its foot off the weirdness. I will be real with ya Gary, I do think it’s a lot for the people out there to take in…and with the similar approach to scattered randomness, it can make each individual experience sound a bit closer to the others than most ears would recognize. That’s generally the effect of having ALL the things going on, ALL of the time…but again, I’d assume the man knows this, and has soldiered on clearly refusing to go gently into that good night. Gary doesn’t just put the kitchen sink into his songs dear readers, dear friends – he puts the entire KITCHEN into it, produce & all I swear. “Douchonaires In Space” is every bit as much of an oddity as it is an odyssey…and like…somehow horses are in there too? You get the idea – Noland covers a whole lotta ground before you even get into space…it’s like if you’ve ever compressed a video or song really quickly at a much higher speed, you get these flickers of sound that catch your attention when you listen back, and it sounds nothing like the original. It’s like Gary has taken the history of mankind and drawn a line all the way into the future, and then compressed the whole timeline of our story into one audible file, five-minutes and forty-three seconds long. Millenium’s worth of sound throughout time, all blipping and beeping bizarrely at you in this much shorter space. Who knows – maybe that’s what it is!
Don’t you do this Gary. Don’t you tease us like this. As “Parting Regrets for piano” begins and the sheer madness of what you’d been experiencing for so long to this point on FLAMMABLE COUNTERPOINT – and it seems as simple as solo-piano has come to soothe our mind from all the complexities of what we’ve been hearing…I remember my first spin through the record thinking, “I just kinda want it to stay this way” and wondering how Gary might ever let that happen based on all I’d heard already. Yet here we are, and that’s exactly what he’s done – he’s given you a musical palette-cleanser…a break for you to catch your thoughts and brace yourself for whatever it is that might come next – but yes, indeed, “Parting Regrets for piano” will remain more melodically tangible from start to finish. For a person like myself, that hasn’t heard what Gary can do when walking the straight & narrow path with music, it’s actually pretty crucial to hear a song like this as well…to kind of get a sense of where it all started and where he came from. Otherwise, we might just have to assume he was running long before he was walking, you feel me? Tracks like “Parting Regrets for piano” aren’t only great to listen to, but they speak strongly on behalf of the compositional skills, technique, and capabilities that brought him here. Gary can play, there’s not a single doubt about that – and “Parting Regrets for piano” puts that fact on display like no other song has to this point in the record, and ultimately I think people will appreciate it. It’s a really expressive piece of music he’s written, and you’ll find that where you end up travels far, far from where you started once it’s all over – yet you’ll wonder how you got there so quickly…and that’s the effect of music that has mesmerizing & hypnotic qualities to it; you get entirely lost in the moment.
“Teeny Tiny Toilet Boys Bring Home Bacon From The Big Bad Zoocus Berserkus” is a title & a half…I figure I can put my feet up for a minute or two, this next part should practically write itself! “Teeny Tiny Toilet Boys Bring Home Bacon From The Big Bad Zoocus Berserkus” continues to create the combination of madness we’ve become accustomed to at this point halfway into the record, and certainly has a lot goin’ on, including an epic climax just past the three-minute mark, with still about two & a half-minutes to go. There’s a ton to take in, there’s no doubt about that…is it a song? Is it art? Is it something else entirely? I’ll let you decide. I know that when the piano breaks through, that’s always what becomes most appealing to me, despite my penchant for the bizarre, weird, and wacky so akin to what Gary enjoys. No question that this would likely be a tougher cut for some to stick with, even the most ardent fans of the strange sounds out there…Noland’s not afraid to ask a whole lot of listeners out there; for those that get it, there’s plenty of room on the bandwagon…for those that don’t, feel free to move on – I am 100% positive that he sleeps the exact same way regardless, every night. Probably folded into some crazy pretzel shape or hanging upside down like the Batman…but you get the idea – I’m sure he’s used to all kinds of interesting comments on his compositions and not much would phase him critically. I’ll admit that even I was probably looking for a little more song inside his song here on “Teeny Tiny Toilet Boys Bring Home Bacon From The Big Bad Zoocus Berserkus,” but it’s still impossible to deny the entertainment value in the completely unpredictable, which Gary most definitely is to the nth degree.
So how does he go about following one of the album’s more challenging spots? Well with a fourteen minute-plus tune of course! What did you expect – something normal? A smooth & fluid R&B track to pop on in outta nowhere? Heck no! You get to try and once again find your way down the rabbit-hole, only this time, it’s about twice as long of a ride to get to the other side to have a gander. “Herr Doktor Squircle’s Existential Casserole” arguably heads in a more low-key and nearly ambient direction for the majority of its length…the wildness you’ve come to know from Gary is still very prevalent in the mix of course, but overall, this would be considered to be…the more subtle of tunes on this record I suppose. It’s a commitment for sure, on both sides of the speakers…but if this man is willing to create it, I’m very much willing to listen – you’re just not going to find tracks like “Herr Doktor Squircle’s Existential Casserole” every day, you know what I mean? So buy the ticket, take the ride I figure – there’s so much to be learned by listening to music that might be outside of your normal diet, and creativity like you’ll find on Noland’s record here, is all too rare to find. I don’t really know what I could have said going into listening to this tune that I might have expected to discover, but I feel like this was it…maybe there really aren’t any words to describe an experience like this…all I can say is that once you get to this point of the album, you’d completely know what I mean. It’s a Noland tune, and it is indeed longer…you could say it’s more spacious perhaps…a bit more space for us to breathe and catch our thoughts as we listen maybe…but ultimately, we’re still talking about the same methods and means he’s applied to the rest of the music you’ll hear on FLAMMABLE COUNTERPOINT as well. I don’t know that I can say I found that particular reason or aspect of “Herr Doktor Squircle’s Existential Casserole” that necessarily warranted the added length, especially given the fact that Gary’s tunes tend to sound like about ten songs mashed together to begin with in all the ideas goin’ on from moment to moment (alright, alright…second to second) – though I think it’s crystal clear that he could make a fortune as a soundtrack or Foley artist. I’m gonna advocate for that eleventh minute pretty hard, because listening to this guy play piano is truly an exquisite treat for the ears and a piece of these tunes doled out all too sparingly…but like I’ve been tellin’ ya, every time it pops up, you realize just how gifted this man truly is beyond all the insanity you hear. Piling it all in there for a big ol’ rambunctious finale that has no problem sparking up your speakers with sounds beaming & booming from the lefts to the rights, “Herr Doktor Squircle’s Existential Casserole” is actually a lot more heckin’ listenable than most people would realize without giving it a proper chance. It’s still as restless as the rest of the set, only with a bit more space to play around in – and personally, I very much dig on the idea of a casserole being existential…because, hey…why NOT at this point right Gary? We’ve established you’re a weird dude and proudly so, so get me a fork I say – I’m here to dig on in to “Herr Doktor Squircle’s Existential Casserole” and have lunch with my strange friend.
One of my own personal favorite artists who I’ve cited countless times on these pages of ours, is Aphex Twin…who is genuinely no less or no more scattered & randomized as you’ll hear the music of Gary Lloyd Noland to be when it comes right down to it. One of my favorite things about Aphex Twin in general, is the fact that he doesn’t believe anyone out there should completely like his entire catalog, and fully acknowledges how crazy that would actually be – especially when he doesn’t dig it all himself. That’s the thing about taking chances and pushing the boundaries of art…sometimes you win by finding something that works, sometimes you win only by having had the experience and learning what you can from it…it might not be the next big thing, but it can be a monumental moment in your own evolution and growth in what you create. I would have to again acknowledge how similar a track like “Biennial Covid Gala” is to what we’ve heard towards the start of this record & point out that it’d be another cut that’s gonna be tough on the average everyday listener out there – but we really have to know what the intentions behind Noland’s music is too. Maybe he’s completely going for that soundtrack-esque style of composition…maybe he’s got big ol’ plans to add another three-hundred videos to support what you hear with trippin’ visuals onscreen or a whole animated movie – we don’t know, but it’d definitely work for something along those lines. Other than that, I’d circle back to the aforementioned Aphex Twin tale and wonder out loud how much Gary is listening to Gary’s music himself…like I’ve been saying, I think he’s asking a whole lot outta the listeners out there, and even in a short riotous dose like you get in the less-than three-minutes of “Biennial Covid Gala” it’s still a superhuman amount of sound to take on in.
Okay, this time I’m like, fully positive I heard the man both crack & pour himself a beer in the middle of playing “Tardigrade Goofaloofs” – did anyone else notice that? I mean…I guess it could be a cola…that’s possible…no judgments here. And did he just end with the exact tone of the incoming text-messages on your i-phone, ensuring that basically anyone within earshot is going to check their device when “Tardigrade Goofaloofs” wraps up? Why yes, I think that he did…and yes, I’d bet it’s 100% intentional. Full of mysterious sounds & even voices…maybe a pinball machine too? “Tardigrade Goofaloofs” is the antithesis to traditional tunes without apologies – Gary has no issues going straight into the beyond, never looking behind him once to see if we’re still tagging along as he pursues his wildest ideas with fully reckless abandon. Ever shape-shifting & morphing what you hear into something else entirely, “Tardigrade Goofaloofs” has that scrolling through the sound-bank effect on us once more, but by that same token, each time that aspect shows up in Gary’s music he’s adding in significantly new sounds into the mix as well. There’s a more murky and mysterious, curious vibe to “Tardigrade Goofaloofs” in comparison to much of the rest as well, and I felt like the undertones of this track worked out brilliantly.
I do think there’s still a ton of room for Gary to create more separation in what he’s creating, I’ll be real with him about that. Track-to-track, this really would be a tough record for most people to discern where one song stops and the next begins…not that this is an absolutely essential part of making music. Noland’s going for more of an immersive & cohesive (ly strange) experience in that regard, and in that respect you have to look at FLAMMABLE COUNTERPOINT as a mission accomplished. As to how long each and every person out there is going to be able to hang out with this record or how much it might exhaust them by the end of listening, that’s gonna be different on a case by case basis. I’ve got a ton of love for the real outsiders out there like Gary, but I’d be the first to admit that it’s a taxing type of music to listen to…that’s the effect of inherently unique stuff, it sends your brain into overdrive trying to keep up. When there’s more of a noticeable difference between each song, we’re able to reset and reawaken our attention to continue to focus on what’s happening…without it, you have the risk of people fading in & out as a record plays…which may or may not be something he’d want to keep in mind for the future. All-in-all, as improvisational as it may be, I have the feeling there’s not much anyone out there is going to say that’s going to convince Gary to go in any other direction than where his musical mind will take him, and right on – as it should be. I’m not here to pass judgment on someone’s art even though I’m a critic – all I can tell ya is what I hear and offer an outside perspective. Gary’s fully aware of all the challenges his music would present to the everyday listener, and “Macho Nerdismo” is every bit as much of one as the rest are…it’s not a style of sound for those out there that desperately need to sing along. Y’ain’t gonna find that catchiness or slick Pop hooks woven into these instrumental tunes…you might not even feel like there’s a moment that you experience twice on the inside of one song, no matter how long or short it may be – and regardless of what you feel about it, you have to appreciate the artistic dimension & depth that ambitions like these possess. Quite simply, Gary’s creating something that no one else has, that no one would be instantly able to draw a comparison to, and that’s 100% priceless. Even better yet, somehow he’s created real identity in the process – I could pick this guy out of a lineup of songs on a playlist blindfolded at this point, and that’s saying a lot considering how different it all is.
You get a bit of what I’m talking about with the way that “Ice Cream Crucifixion” opens…like you’d have a better chance of recognizing this track by title when it came up again and be able to identify it as one of the more unique cuts in the set that stood out for one reason or another. Or another and another when it comes to Gary’s music, but you get the idea. I dig what he’s got goin’ on with the bass & piano combinations here…those are the main meat of this song for me personally…the rest of the scattered wildness & weirdness being fired off throughout the atmosphere is a bit more expected at this point in listening to FLAMMABLE COUNTERPOINT: A Pandora’s Tinderbox Of Tickletunes Op. 126, but still welcome all the same. I don’t think that at track eleven, Gary has to worry about whether anyone that’s hanging out listening to this set will make it to the end…at this point, we’re as committed as listeners as he is as an artist and guaranteed to stick with it. The presence of the bass really made the difference in this particular cut for me personally…I like how that was more pronounced and played a starring role in this tune…the sporadic nature of the rest involved was as interesting as it’s been throughout the album.
For a second there, with the gentle sounds of nature and piano combined, you get that feeling like you’ve just walked out of a darkened theater on into the daylight as the final track “Perforated Smuggards” begins…but any appearance of normality will quickly subside, I promise. Keeping his street-cred in-check, Gary starts to light up this last cut with all kinds of oddities in the mix for ya, bending time & space to his will as he plays…and it’s no less strange than any of the rest before too long at all. Heck, he even throws in a serious BEAT for like, ONE moment for you as well…just to give ya something easy to catch onto for a second & perhaps audibly prove that he could have taken the easy route with his music all along, if that was ever what he wanted…which clearly it is not. “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” as my man Hunter S. Thompson would tell ya…and listening to Gary finish off his record with the bleating sheep and malevolent laughs in the background of “Perforated Smuggards” – I mean…you gotta recognize that if this quote represents any truth at all, this man is among the most pro. I’ve more than enjoyed my time…there’s no question about this being a highly memorable experience, even if it’s not a record I feel like I’d reach for every single day…what Gary’s established here is so much more impressive than that; it’s his identity in sound, and it’s a moment in time that I’ll never ever forget.
Find out more about Gary Lloyd Noland at his official website at: https://garynolandcomposer.com
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