Graham Stephenson

Graham Stephenson & Aaron Zarzutzki - No Dice (Hideous Replica)

Purchase No Dice here

In 2013, Erstwhile launched its ErstAEU sublabel in order to highlight experimental musicians from America. And right from the start, it became the home of three great releases. One of those came in the form of Graham Stephenson & Aaron Zarzutzki's texturally rich Touching. A couple months after its release, the duo performed at ISSUE Project Room in Brooklyn and the resulting concert is what's presented on this disc from Hideous Replica.

As No Dice starts, it sounds as if it'll be filled with the same cacophonous noise that characterized Touching. But after a couple minutes, the album settles into something far more subdued for most of its runtime and the general atmosphere is one of understated intimacy. Naturally, one would expect such a result for a quieter record but it's also directly related to how these instruments are presented the interactions between them. As before, Zarzutzki utilizes his synthesizer while Graham dons his trumpet and microphone but the noises they create here often function to serve each other. On Touching, they mostly acted as compounding building blocks that pointed towards the album's overall sound. It was still possible to parse who was contributing to the individual elements of the songs but the different textures, timbres, and tones blended into a monolithic unit.

The different approach that Stephenson and Zarzutzki use here makes for a constantly engaging listen. It especially comes through with any changes in dynamics; the louder sections of the song, and even the louder moments within quieter passages, feel much more dramatic than one may expect after hearing Touching. Even more, this approach gives a real human element to the airy tones that come from Stephenson playing his trumpet. And juxtaposed with the more metallic and sharp analog synthesizer, this consequent contrast proves for a satisfying array of sound. The most apparent testament to this is how this arrangement often allows for moments that are surprisingly playful, particularly when the synth skitters around the sound of an unwavering trumpet tone.

Perhaps the most delightful moment on No Dice appears about eleven minutes in--stuttering electronic squelches gradually shift in rhythm as to mimic the sound of galloping horses. It's one of many exciting moments on the album, and for only the second recording between Stephenson and Zarzutzki, No Dice proves that the two compliment each other really well. They make the most of these thirty minutes, and while it's only half as long as their previous release, it feels equally as accomplished.