Recently I had the great pleasure of listening to Avenue B, the new full length album from instrumental guru Steve Haskin, prior to its May 4 release date. Unsure of what to expect as instrumental records are often more unpredictable than your garden variety rock, pop or country albums, I came with an open mind, and ironically, took away a more than filling experience than I could have ever hoped for.
I’m a big fan of experimental music, from the unforgiving raw grit in the Velvet Underground’s self-titled record, to the visceral white noise of Merzbow and beyond, I consider myself to have a very embracing palate when it comes to left-field art. While I get the vibe from Steve Haskin that he is definitely not trying to record something quite as abstract and harsh as the blistering noise on Masami Akita’s Degradation of Tapes, Avenue B is nonetheless just as thought provoking and surreal in certain areas. The resistance of the bottom end against the relentless assault of drums and spinning string arrangements that simulate a brisk wind are enough to make someone entirely forget that they’re sitting in front of a computer listening to a record. I thoroughly loved the postmodernism Steve Haskin shares with us on Avenue B, particularly on “Pacific Coast Highway,” and “Malaga,” which impressively play as smooth and enthralling as any contemporary symphonic music I’ve heard lately.
The title of this album itself is an exercise in existentialism. Avenue “B” makes me wonder if there was an “Avenue A” to begin with. Was this record the result of Haskin pouring countless hours of work, blood and sweat into his songwriting, slaving over a soundboard in the studio, analyzing every note and escaping sound until he realized that none of his original vision was working? Is this that “Plan B” so to speak, the alternative to some other concept that couldn’t evade the frustrating perfectionism of an artist as talented as Haskin? Or was Haskin trying to deliberately encourage us to analyze our own “Plan B” experiences, our own failings or indecision? Are we being tested by the ethereal whispers of a violin, being judged by the ghostly guitars that come screaming through the mist whenever you think you’re finally alone? Or could it be that this is all a document of Haskin’s own madness and passage into the jungle of introspection, and we’re simply along for the ride?
The overwhelming theme hanging over all of these questions and inward searching that Avenue B inspires is simple; some emotions and questions have absolutely no means of being expressed in the human language. That’s where the music comes in. The notation is the lyric, the harmonics are the voices proclaiming that the prisoners have been freed. There is something utterly divine about music that speaks to our soul without any assistance of a poet. Steve Haskin has flawlessly created an impeccable demonstration of just what music can accomplish when it’s given a platform all its own.
Thomas Patton, III