After a decade of creative hiatus, Contemporary Noise Ensemble have returned with a stunning new record, showcasing a slimline lineup which cleverly replaces brass sections with heaps of electronica. Going into the record, I had no idea what to expect having missed the band’s previous works prior to tackling this new album. Yet every time I sling the record on, I’m amazed at the creativity, the tones, but most of all the infectious energy of the record.
I can’t remember a jazz record bar Aberdeen‘s Downpour that starts as strong as An Excellent Spiritual Serviceman, but Contemporary Noise Ensemble absolutely nailed it with their opening track. “Dance Of The Headless Jazz Expert” is this fantastic electronic-driven experience that simultaneously reminds me of artists spanning the vast electronic genre. The opening feels like Spoonbill‘s Zoomorphic had a large influence, but quickly turns into a Lemon Jelly or Battles level kind of bonkers, with fast-paced, energising arpeggios that delight and excite.
CNE did the right thing with the record too. They only did one song in the style of the opening track, which really helps to accentuate its creativity, its energy. Over the next eight tracks, the band changes tone, theme, and even genre multiple times, to round out an extremely interesting and exciting album. “The Queen is About To Spin” and “Easy Time” are quite similar in tone, still channelling the joyful energy of the first, but in more of a Jaga Jazzist way. Closing your eyes, pouring landscapes of colourful energy flood your vision, with the tracks particularly good for long journeys or walks through nature to complement their sunlit positivity.
“All Systems On..!” caught me by surprise, though. Through a piece of quite brilliant sound engineering, the band become a psychedelic post-rock band for the next two tracks, pumping out what sounds like the best parts of Lost In Kiev into trippy, cyberpunk-soaked tracks. Throughout each listen, my mind almost empties and I get lost in the waves of sound the band throw your way. The mixing to create these effects is brilliant, and you can really appreciate the talent they have for weaving so many electronic layers together, whilst not overcrowding or drowning out any critical section of it.
Despite the electronic bass and synthesizers largely owning the mix, the fundamental basis for their success is the amazing drumming that ties it all together. Throughout each track, the drums seem to be the lead but are free-flowing enough to underscore the flair of other instruments when needed. The kit sound is also amazing through every bit of hardware that I tried out.
The next two tracks return to a more eclectic format, with more of the high positivity being thrown at you. It’s also again where I hear a lot of Lemon Jelly-style funky electronic jazz coming through, maybe even with a dosing of Three Trapped Tigers. The synthesizers are cranked to the max, soaking the listener in waves of great energy. The final track did feel like a completely different band had started playing with the introduction of vocals. At times they feel very Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age, and it really works alongside the chaotic arpeggios of the synths and the gritty basslines.
All in all, I’m surprised that this record hasn’t had more exposure from the channels I peruse, and feel that the new direction of the band would actually push them away from more contemporary jazz and more towards math/post/alt-rock. Out of all the various bands that they remind me of, the biggest is Jaga Jazzist, so fans of them should certainly take note, and I’d hope the band targets festivals like ArcTanGent or Complexity in future to push their fantastic sound out to the masses. Whilst the record might not be easy listening for some, to me it is the perfect middle ground between rock, electronica, psychedelia, and jazz.