An Odd Nosdam record is something more than music. More and more, David P. Madson's albums are collections of wordless short stories and scenes, intricately woven audio scrapbooks that buzz with singular experience as lived through the eyes and ears of one very electric human conduit. Whereas 2005's threateningly dense and gorgeous Burner was built amongst bad relationships, nasty headspaces and East Oakland situations, Level Live Wires is the distinct product of inspiration, bizarre happenstance and wonder lived out in a series of bright moments eventually brought together under the roof of an unruffled West Berkeley cottage. Here 8-track cassettes, samplers, synths and Dictaphones, lost records and found sounds, field recordings and happy accidents are brought to stirring life by our humble collagist.
Level Live Wires is announced by “On,” where a rolling dub bump bounces under a windy choral drone to pleasantly gangsta effect, which soon gives way to the surging slow dance of “Kill Tone.” A ticking arrives on a tiny loop, birds chirp overhead, something burns, then a crunchy harp melody begins—and begins again as if waiting to catch a groove. As a swell of bass pushes from below, the aural landscape shifts: sampler drums punch in and out, a guitar grinds slowly in the background (played by Dee Kesler of Thee More Shallows), voices echo elsewhere, and suddenly a rapid line of barroom piano (WHY?’s Doug McDiarmid) lends the final context needed to turn the loping beat into swirling ballet of syncopated sound. With a sharp kick of the turntable, “We Dead” pulses in on a vocal loop and a train-whistle, before “Freakout 3” crash-lands with a heavy burst of sludgy doom.
Tense glacial air warms to a warbling phonograph, a thunderstorm breaks, and a ball of aural white light overwhelms everything. David’s voice trickles in via Dictaphone during a President’s Day gang shooting outside of his old Oakland Victorian, but it’s the speaker-shattering cry of Chris Adams (HOOD, Bracken) that leads the heavy bass and building fuzz onward. Following a blast of electronic squelch, “Fat Hooks” lifts listeners skyward with an airy composition of turntable bump, rich organ and soaring voice (courtesy of Jessica Bailiff), while “Blast” sounds delectably dirty and glassy in dub. “The Kill Tone Two” returns to a busted-up break-beat and its predecessor’s lo-bit harp progression, but adds live violin (by TMS collaborator Cosmos Lee) and voice to create a rolling pastoral epic. TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and WHY?’s Yoni Wolf trade poems, tones and beat-box while Odd Nosdam plays conductor and composer.
Then comes “Burner.” There’s the sound of a window sliding open, a car horn steadily blurting, and flames raging as a freshly abandoned Ford Explorer is caught on tape exploding in front of David’s ex Oakland digs. The slowly warping horn becomes the tonal base of the song, and the sharp blasts inspire sporadic but controlled bursts of heavy drum. What follows is a patched beat of the most ominous variety: rap bounce, deep synth whirrs, blurred bass (WHY?’s Josiah Wolf), harmonizing frequencies and endless texture. Like “Freakout 3,” the song was originally intended for Burner, but the gravity of its origins were stultifying. David worked on “Burner” obsessively for three years before turning to one of his musical idols, Chris Adams. Halfway through the song, the HOOD architect can be heard, sawing at the base of the composition with violin and singing ghostly etherea overtop. When “Burner” breaks, we’re back at the burning car, alone and surrounded by pitch black.
That Nosdam is as fascinated with these odd moments as the rest of us are is what gives Level Live Wires its enveloping draw. Each bit that becomes a part of a song is an otherwise static and eventually staid sound that could have become mere memory. Instead, he takes each into his life (often burning sounds onto disc and listening to them throughout his day), and gives them some blood in return. The album’s closing triptych bring things to an appropriate end, with “Up in Flames” returning to the clouds on the back of a bubbly reggae bassline, while piano and pounding drums (played by Jel), get pulled into a mechanical tornado (David mashing and jamming the 8-track cassette while transferring the base loop onto computer). “Slight Return” slows down and stretches out the crux harp melody, but in reverse, creating a dark and crystalline kind of pretty, and “Off” gives us a glorious wash of tone and synth to drift out on. Also included with Level Live Wires’ first pressing is a limited bonus disc of isolated sonics—a fine ambient EP in its own right—that allows listeners to hear the album’s underpinnings from Odd Nosdam’s peerless perspective.
Which is, of course, the view we’ve enjoyed from Level Live Wires' very beginning.
"You can draw some crooked lines from My Bloody Valentine's smeared soundscapes and from The Bomb Squad's edited-to-death production to [Odd Nosdam's] sound." - Grooves
"Odd Nosdam is to experimental hip-hop what Herbert is to disco. Although samples abound, its the field recordings (exploding SUVs, gang shootings) in his latest LP that make it a truly intriguing (and often moving) collection of cinematic, fuzzy bricolage. After one listen to ON's Level Live Wires, a single question remains: has gangster shoegaze actually been composed?" - XLR8R
* free immediate download of mp3 files with vinyl purchase of this product