By Dan Coffey
If you’re a committed seeker of music that is as exciting as it is unclassifiable, you can only hope to be able to stumble across a band like the Chinese Cookie Poets maybe a dozen times in your life, if you’re lucky. I had plenty of reservations going into this listening experience, as I tend to recoil when told “you’re gonna love this,” (it’s part of the same coding in my DNA that makes me seek out this kind of music in the first place). These reservations were unfounded, as it turns out. I’m happy to have gone into the short CCP discography and come out the other end a changed listener.
So, what’s the big deal? When discussing any kind of art that’s as different as this is, it’s forgivable to grasp for comparisons as reference points. And indeed, on the surface, they do bear a resemblance to certain rock trios that lie in the avant-garde end of the spectrum: Massacre comes to mind, as does the group the (EC) Nudes. To compare them to any number of “post-rock” bands would do them a disservice – there is just so much more going on.
The bass player often has a sound reminiscent of John Wetton during his stint in King Crimson, but it’s as if he was under the spell of Derek Bailey instead of Robert Fripp, and the guitarist intersects in a musical Venn diagram with Fripp, Bailey, and Fred Frith, but is completely unique. I don’t have words to describe the drummer. It’s not all “Rock in Opposition” or out-improv, though. The noise aesthetic plays a huge role in the CCP sound – you can hear The Boredoms and Melt-Banana, and there are the (relatively) quieter moments that might remind one of the Minutemen.
Chinese Cookie Poets hail from Rio de Janeiro, and consist of Marcos Campello on electric guitar, Felipe Zenícola on electric bass, and Renato Godoy on drums. Their first recording was a self-titled EP released in 2010, which consists of edited pieces that are mixtures of composition and improvisation. Their second release, Dragonfly Catchers and Yellow Dog, was also an EP, this time of live performances, slightly more brutal in the attack, and with somewhat longer songs.
CCP released a “full-length” (23 minutes!) album in 2012 titled Worm Love on the Sinewave Records label, and it is by far the most engaging, confounding, and harrowing release I’ve heard by anybody in quite some time. The rhythm section is relentless, teasing the listener into thinking they’re about to settle into a familiar rock groove before taking a sharp turn into the unexpected. They’ve upped the effects on this album, too: lots of “glitches” and juddering stop/start edits color the already dense canvas, especially in the “Three Worms” trilogy. Oh, and some guy named Arto Lindsay adds his DNA to one of the tracks.
So, I’ve told you all that to tell you this: the brand new Chinese Cookie Poets album is excellent, in a spacious and sublime way that marks quite a departure from their earlier albums, if only in their decision to let silence play a much larger part In their songs. The unabashed experimentalism is still there, but it’s not as rampant. Doubtless this is because they’ve included a fourth musician on their latest album, Danza Cava, out this month on Mansarda Records: Nicolau Lafetá on trumpet.(In their live performances, they frequently play alongside a fourth musician, so this is nothing terribly new to the band.) Lafetá drives the band into territory they don’t seem to be used to going to (on the song “Tiao Yue,” guitarist Campello’s playing is comparatively gentle. For all the comparisons above, AMM can be added to this one. CCP do bring the noise, to be sure, but they are generous with the space, allowing Lafetá to shine in his own way, a sort of mixture of Steve Lacy “freak register” skronking as well as less outré playing. The guitar, and the effects thrust upon it, makes it a delicious companion to Lafetá’s blowing, and while Zenícola and Godoy never let you forget the mayhem they’re capable of, they opt for a more serene backdrop.
(See http://chinesecookiepoets.bandcamp.com/ for samples of their previous recordings)