AMN Reviews: Evil Genius – Experiments on Human Subjects (2018; Orenda Records)

Here is a different take on the power trio: guitar, drums, and…wait for it…tuba. Evil Genius is a Portland / Los Angeles experimental jazz/rock group, and Experiments on Human Subjects is their second release.

The unusual instrumentation is just part of the story. Evil Genius also breaks the so-called rules in terms of compositional style. Guitarist Max Kutner and tubist Stefan Kac employ labyrinthine contrapuntal lines, deftly weaving in and around one another’s playing. Particularly, Kac uses the tuba’s wide dynamic range to provide a bassy, staccato contrast to Kutner’s distorted leads, but also to duel with Kutner on the high end. Kutner adeptly moves between approaches based on hard rock, post-rock, metal, jazz, and even a bit of blues, while drummer Michael Lockwood is the quintessential busy percussionist. Evil Genius doesn’t just vary their influences and styles – they seem to be blissfully unaware of any of the (largely artificial) lines drawn between genres.

The eleven tracks on Experiments on Human Subjects are best thought of as stand-alone short bursts of energy, with only two exceeding six minutes. Judging from the titles, such as Skateboarders Versus Security Guards: Double Agents in a Proxy War Between the Forces of Good and Evil and The Great Pilling of Pat Metheny’s Sweaters, there is more than a little tongue-in-cheek humor at play. Still, toward the second half of the album, Evil Genius tones down the freneticism a bit but not the virtuosity. Overall, the playing is so tight that the group will surprise you by subtlely slipping between heavily-composed and openly-improvised sections.

Comparisons can be made to the work of guitar / drums duo Ahleuchatistas, but…yeah…tuba. Highly recommended for fans of experimental rock bands that take their music, if not themselves, seriously.