7 Feb 2017

Sand To Glass by The All-Seeing Hand

From The Sampler, 7:30 pm on 7 February 2017
The All Seeing Hand

The All Seeing Hand Photo: Supplied

Nick Bollinger takes pleasure in the full-body experience of Wellington drums-turntables-and-vocals trio The All Seeing Hand.

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For a few years now, one of the most creative and exciting bands in this country has been Wellington trio, The All-Seeing Hand. Their line-up is unusual: drums, turntable, voice. Then again, there’s no reason such a combo should produce a particularly startling noise. But this is no ordinary drummer, DJ and singer.

It would be hard to say which is the most unique. Certainly, singer Jonny Marks has an unusual skill-set, having spent a year studying throat-singing in Inner Mongolia, and he brings this extraordinary, unearthly vocal technique to these songs. But equally unorthodox is DJ Alphabethead’s approach to his instrument. He can play the turntables and MPC like Tony Iommi plays guitar, or with the funk and syncopation of Bernie Worrell – sometimes both at once.

All three members have a profound physicality about their playing. Ben Michael Knight’s drumming is physical by definition, and he hits ‘em hard, yet weirdly there seem to be as much energy in the spaces between those powerful beats. To watch Alphabethead at his turntables is like seeing Gandalf in the throes of some particularly demanding spell. And the most amazing thing about Marks’s performance is that he makes it look so easy.

Sand To Glass is their first release in three years and it shows they haven’t been idle. It is the most cohesive recording they have done so far; also the most varied and interesting. Each of these songs takes a journey. It might set out sombre, almost in slow-motion – like their track ‘Jupiter’s Moons’, before it lifts off into a disco dance feel.

This album has the funkiest sounds I’ve heard from this group, but also the funniest. The All-Seeing Hand may take its work seriously, but they also have a sense of the absurd, deliberately pushing some of these pieces to comic-operatic heights. There’s always a touch of the comic when it comes to yodelling, even when combined with rock histrionics in ‘Dog Eat Dog’.

But there are also passages of sublime beauty. They perhaps come closest to the meditative mood of traditional Mongolian music when they are joined by guitarist Deane Hunter for the closing track, ‘Rag and Bone’.

Sand and Glass is a full-body experience, and might seem like a challenge to anyone weaned on rock’n’roll’s traditional guitars, bass and drums. Yet, in a way, The All-Seeing Hand is a classic power trio. There is nothing  superfluous in their sound. Every beat and note is intrinsic. Every member is holding up his corner of the triangle.

Songs featured: Cro-Magnon Corp, Jupiter’s Moons, Dog Eat Dog, Rag and Bone, Swarm, Silicon and Synapse.

Sand and Glass is available on Bandcamp and independent CD.