Wednesday, May 14, 2014

FLAP's 'World of Visions' is decades in the making

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2014 at 2:07 PM

In October 2009, the legendary Atlanta-bred guitar duo FLAP reunited after a decade-and-change hiatus to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a unique experimental collaboration. With no particular plan in mind, other than to see what playing together again felt like, Andy Hopkins and Matt Miller, who initially met in 1988 while attending Emory University, relearned a handful of old tunes, conjured up some new ones, and blew away a wildly appreciative audience at 529.

Five years later, having discovered that they still very much enjoy making music together, FLAP is strumming along with renewed vigor and matured purpose. Club and house gigs have been a semi-regular occurrence while an album's worth of material was carefully assembled in collaboration with Neil Fried at Railroad Earth and Eric Reed at Last Exit Studio. The release in March of World of Visions marks the first full-length effort by the guitar-picking pair since 1993's FLAP Am in the House & Spotlight on Agonython.

FLAP is not your father's or grandfather's guitar duet. Self-described as "jazz-math-grass compositions," the term fairly and succinctly describes the eleven tracks on World of Visions. The playing is mostly unplugged with the occasional switch to electric for a change of mood. Sometimes the guitars are augmented by unusual electronic accents, such as 8-bit beats and homemade noise cassettes. Using finger-picking skills honed by decades of obsessive exploration at the outer limits of their instruments, Hopkins and Miller favor the difficult, complex and tricky over the familiar and predictable. Technical wizardry and a contortionist's flair for the dramatic permeate the proceedings, but never at the expense of a captivating groove or intrinsic swing. A single song can incorporate furiously fret-shredding melodic runs complemented by lushly staged harmonic changes, all infused with elements drawn from sources as disparate as Django Reinhardt, Metallica, Doc Watson, Fred McDowell, Bach, and Segovia.

As engagingly wondrous as the guitar licking is, FLAP also sings. While neither musician possesses an especially compelling voice, Hopkins' light tenor and Miller's more dulcet delivery services the material well enough. FLAP relishes recounting fractured fables based on subjects both fabulous and mundane. More like poetic puzzles rather than straightforward short stories, FLAP's best lyrical efforts are infused, like a good rap song, with clever punning and contextual quirks, which makes listeners pay a little more attention than they otherwise might.

In "Masterpiece," Miller paints an impressionistic scene of disastrous consequences during a graffiti artist's "bombing run" on a railroad car - a classic Appalachian murder ballad melody perfectly enhances the grim and gritty theme. On "Ray's," Hopkins plaintively ruminates on an encounter with a shadetree mechanic whose earnest ethic and derelict life are discernible within the drab environs in which he toils. "With a shower of sparks for all to see, Ray Love works in the shade of a tree/And even though his cousin gets all the press, Ray does the best underneath... "

On the all-instrumental side, "Tertium Quid" and "Melody in Orange" bear FLAP's unmistakably idiomatic stamp. Off-kilter rhythms supporting elegantly syncopated melodic riffs set the stage for twisted passages that run in tandem, then veer away from each other and intersect multiple times like some sort of Looney Tunes chase scene in which the protagonist is straddling two vehicles running over variant territory in the same direction.

Twenty-five years in development, FLAP's advanced concept of what the two-guitar format is capable of achieving has produced a World of Visions to which anyone with adventurous ears can relate.

FLAP plays Red Light Cafe on Sat., May 17, with the Wheel Knockers and Interstate. $5-$7. 8 p.m. FLAP goes on first, and is also be playing an in-store performance at Criminal Records on Saturday, May 31 at 4 p.m.

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