Joshua Abrams

Deep Water Church, Halifax NS, May 28

Photo: Steve Louie

BY Ryan McNuttPublished May 29, 2016

OBEY Convention's lineup features lots of bands trying to break sounds out of patterns natural to the ear. What made Joshua Abrams's thrilling hour-long set perhaps the best of the festival thus far was how it reconstructed those sounds into new, otherworldly patterns built on a decidedly worldly foundation.
By that, I mean that aside from what appeared to be a small bit of electronic manipulation, Abrams and his band built their glittering soundscapes using some of the more traditional instrumentation you'll find at OBEY. Abrams, an acclaimed musician based in Chicago, played the bulk of his set on the guembri, a three-stringed bass lute with North African origins that he uses to provide the driving core of his compositions. (He also performed one piece on a double bass, making it squawk out sounds unlike anything I expected.)

His bandmates, both from his project the Natural Information Society, included Lisa Alvarado on harmonium (a squeeze box) and Mikel Avery on a variety of percussion instruments: not just drums, but a marimba and a large smattering of small cymbals.
After opening the set with each player jangling various cymbals and rattles, the trio picked up their primary instruments to build a wall of unexpected sounds that, despite threatening cacophony, found an almost hypnotic alignment. The ear could switch its focus from one player to another and hear something totally different, but completely of a piece with the other parts. It was like three parallel universes aligning in a united space-time groove.
The compositions were not only expertly built, but compellingly wound down, each with a sense of falling action that gave it a real feeling of conclusion. The frantic beauty of it all inspired a standing ovation from the grateful crowd, who were treated to one last, relatively quiet piece ("The Ladder," the closing song from last year's double album Magnetoception) to close out the incredible set.

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