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Death & Taxe$: The Alaska 12 Expeditions

Unlike the images of final certainty the band's name conjures, Death & Taxe$ play an "anything goes" amalgam of progressive rock, jazz, fusion and even a little heavy metal. The California-based trio recorded two albums Paradigms for a New Quarter in 1996 and theenigmathatisman in 2001 and the music sounded alive, infused with creative energy and enthusiasm. But then bass player Tom Shannon passed away in November 2002 when cancer seized his brain, throwing the band's future into jeopardy but inspiring remaining member Vince Martinez and new drummer Dean McCall to record The Alaska 12 Expeditions, a curiously titled collection of songs written and/or recorded before, during and after Shannon's death. Featuring a slew of guest players, the album is a discomforting, slightly awkward but ultimately beautiful disc.

By following lots of styles and taking plenty of Shannon's musical and lyrical cues, Death & Taxe$ Martinez says he's not sure the name will survive after this record have released a musical eulogy of sorts. As Martinez writes on the band's web site, which offers excellent track-by-track commentary about the origins and significance of each song on The Alaska 12 Expeditions, the lyrics he penned for this album "ended up having more meaning than intended. And although only a few lines are directly stemmed from my friendship with Tom and my time of mourning, they all seem to point to him or my friendship with him directly."

The spoken-word "Introduction to S.F.T.G." comes from a tape Martinez found of an early Death & Taxe$ gig, featuring Shannon introducing the "The John Galt Song," one of the band's oldest songs. That leads into "The War Against Mental Atrophy," a brief and dark instrumental that showcases Shannon's delicate playing style. "Misunderstanding A Little Less Completely" borrows from King Crimson to explore philosophical views of life and death, and "Revolver" is the first song on The Alaska 12 Expeditions to follow a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, sounding like get this a Seal song. "The Suffer Ring" is the album's heaviest track, rocking with a modern vibe that embraces distorted vocals but then breaks down in the middle to reveal the subtleties of the core Death & Taxe$ sound.

Elsewhere, "Death: Theory" is a mostly instrumental blues song that segues into a jazzy middle and then an ominous spoken-word segment penned by Shannon and voiced by one of his longtime friends: "I will walk alone/Into the void I destroy life/And seek out my own death/A way to rest." "Terrifying Anticipations of the Unspeakable" is a haunting improvisational piece that uses a foreboding tolling-bell loop, and "It Is Now Becoming Fantastic," a title Martinez says he ripped off from Trey Gunn's online diary, is a catchy corker that represents the last piece he and Shannon wrote together. The album closes with a promising 32 seconds of music recorded during a Saturday-morning writing session years ago.

Interestingly, The Alaska 12 Expeditions contains only 11 tracks. Proceeds from the sale of the CD will go to UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center as if you needed another reason to add this eclectic and oddly moving CD to your collection.

Track Listing:
1) Introduction S.F.T.G. (0:15)
2) The War Against Metal Atrophy (2:38)
3) Misunderstanding A Little Less Completely (9:12)
4) Revolver (4:52)
5) The Suffer Ring (6:04)
6) Snail (0:57)
7) Death: Theory (8:33)
8) It Is Now Becoming Fantastic (5:44)
9) Famous Strangeness (7:06)
10) Terrifying Anticipations of the Unspeakable (6:13)
11) Let There Be Light (0:32)
Total Time: 52:11

Added: January 31st 2006
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Official Death & Taxe$ Web Site
Hits: 5571
Language: english

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Death & Taxe$: The Alaska 12 Expeditions
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-01-31 17:02:46
My Score:

The Alaska 12 Expeditions is so far the last Death & Take$ album, put together after original band member and creator Tom Shannon's death from cancer in 2002. Some of the songs do feature Shannon's unique bass playing, but those he was unable to put on tape were handled by a vast array of guest musicians that his band mate Vince Martinez found and integrated into the music. Martinez also co-wrote most of the material here, some from scratch, and helped finish arrangements too.

First of all, this album is a great act of love and respect in musical form, dedicated to the memory of Thomas Patrick Shannon. What's even more meaningful is that the sales of the album will be used in support of the worthy cause of cancer research and funds will go to UCLA's Jonsson's Cancer Research Center. This is worth the price of the album alone, but amazingly, the CD is also full of songs that are carefully written, recorded and arranged. From simple acoustic guitars and bass arpeggios that define "The War Against Metal Atrophy" to the engaging guitar work on the detailed "Misunderstanding A Little Less Completely", The Alaska 12 Expeditions is an interesting piece of work. Textured guitar harmonies float above the compositions before giving way to creepy, silent passages where a cold mix of bass, keys and sparse cymbals can be heard. The atmosphere is ethereal, drums roll wildly, while the vocals lament the loss of a loved one, even if the title was inspired by C.S. Lewis' book titled A Grief Observed. Side by side with the dramatic pieces are catchier and more direct tracks such as "Revolver", a song with an excellent arrangement, beautiful synths, acoustic guitars, and a terrific interpretation from George Radai who does Tom Shannon's original bass arrangement justice. "The Suffer Ring" is another interesting song, as it seems like it consists of two totally separate songs merged into the framework of one. It begins with nifty chord changes on the guitar and concludes with a depressive, almost grungy (especially considering the vocals at the end) form. I quite enjoyed this song.

"Snail" is just some drum and bass arrangement that lasts less than a minute and segues into the lengthy instrumental "Death: Theory", a title Vince Martinez came up. Apparently, Tom Shannon also used to jam with this free-style improvers called Bag: Theory, and when he passed away, Martinez asked the guys to come over and jam this amazing blues-inflected track out. With a distinct southern flair, where country meets bluegrass, this is the band's take on various genres, utilising harmonica, saxophone, conga, and impressive finger-picked bass lines. The guitar work is searing throughout. Given the atmosphere in the studio when this song was put down on tape, the track becomes all the more emotional in its impact.

Death and Taxe$ is impossible to categorise musically. There is a lot of prog rock going on here, but it's equally jazz and blues friendly. By the way, the Chapman stick playing is awesome too. I heard Vince Martinez has already started work on the follow-up to this album, hopefully out some time in 2006. I'll be on the lookout, so should you.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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