Badge Epoch's 90-Minute 'Scroll' Would Be a Mess in Lesser Hands
Published Aug 17, 2021The latest instalment in the ever-expanding Slim Twig universe sees mastermind Max Turnbull step out from his Badge Époque Ensemble. Turnbull envisioned Scroll as a more personal expression than his work with the entire group, hence the slight name tweak to Badge Epoch. In 2017, he began compiling tracks as a sort of journaling device, poaching the tastiest treats from his creative archives that didn't quite make it into his myriad of psychedelic projects. The resulting release could be considered a kind of documentary soundtrack that traces his recent evolution and creative process.
Of course, the usual suspects are still here. The Cosmic Range, Tony Price, Michael Rault and the actual Badge Époque Ensemble all appear, among others. It's worth the time to check out everything that everyone in the credits has done for their own "solo" projects, including all things Turnbull has done as Slim Twig or with Darlene Shrugg and U.S. Girls. Scroll is like the Black Widow film of the Twigverse. You can enjoy it on its own, but there are entire TV and movie series behind this thing that provide a rich bed of context for each other.
Case in point, sprawling across a feature-length 90 minutes, Scroll itself is kind of a kitchen sink beat tape cobbled together from about eight years of sessions, including many reworked abandoned U.S. Girls tracks. There are the sickest of progressive psych-funk jams like "Galactic Whip" and "Please" that sound like BADBADNOTGOOD going on a Funkadelic trip with Adrian Younge, delightfully interspersed with avant-garde interludes. These interludes evoke the abrasive atonality of Pierre Boulez as well as the early electronic and musique concrète experimentations of Edgard Varèse and Karlheinz Stockhausen; all of whom were thanked in the liner notes to Freak Out! by Frank Zappa and the Mothers, although Uncle Meat is a more apt comparison for this Badge Époque effort.
Indulging any of Twig's whim to the outer limits, there are lengthy tone poems throughout the Scroll tracklisting as well. "You Will Find" drags the charm of Belbury Poly through the stuttering minimalism of Oneohtrix Point Never. The loping expansiveness of "Every Thought Is a Prayer" sounds like Brian Eno crafting discreet loops for airports, while the transition from horror creep to pastoral pluck in "Deers in the Cemetery" unfolds as cinematically as a Clint Mansell score. The slow-churning ambient techno of "Ask for a Void" remarkably contrasts the uptempo dance-y beat and soaring Ratatat-esque harmonized guitar fuzz sizzle of "Fruit Cocktail in Heavy Syrup." Considering all of the jams, interludes, and experiments together as a whole, the album's overall flow brings to mind an instrumental version of the ground-breaking self-titled 1968 experimental rock album by Joseph Byrd's United States of America or one of Madlib's movie-themed Beat Konducta collections.
Given the staggering eclecticism of these instrumentals, if you didn't know that Max Turnbull was behind this thing, you might assume it's a sequel to Anthology Recordings' essential library music compilation Unusual Sounds. The first third of the album sounds like El Michels Affair bandleader Leon Michels crate-digging for rare Stevie Wonder B-sides while the last third sounds like Scott Walker wreaking havoc at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. In lesser hands, Scroll would be a half-baked hot mess, but this dish is al dente. (Telephone Explosion)