No need, after a half-dozen voiceless recordings, for the obligatory explanation that The Nels Cline Singers is an instrumental band. Yet a few vocal effects can be heard on Macroscope: wordless long tones the guitarist deploys over 12-string harmonics or an out-and-out outraged cry over electric guitar. The trio — longtime Cline confidant Scott Amendola on percussion, electronic effects, and, on one piece, balloon; and new bassist Trevor Dunn — are joined on select tracks by keyboardist and Cline’s spouse, Yuka C. Honda; percussionists Cyro Baptista and Josh Jones; and electric harpist Zeena Parkins. The sound is big, even when it’s only the threesome, inflated by Cline’s sonic triggers and Amendola’s electronic effects. Even at their most far-out, the tunes offer something to grasp, whether harmonic, rhythmic, or both. And while the music occasionally grooves, rarely does it groove for a song’s duration. “Companion Piece” opens with spare, sweet chords before accelerating on Amendola’s splashy rock beats. The accessible “Red Before Orange” pulses with drums, congas, and heartbeat-like glub-glub, over which Cline applies clean, melodic phrases before switching out to wah-wah-affected electric. “The Wedding Band” sizzles on ray-gun guitar effects and metallic percussive chatter. “Hairy Mother” is all short-circuit, radio-telescope buzz layered over industrial-strength backbeat. Despite its often hard, teeth-chattering edge, there’s much that’s attractive here — only not in the romantic sense.
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