McGill Manring Stevens - Controlled By Radar

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Free Electric Sound
Catalog Number: FES4002
Format: CD
Total Time: 112:08:00

The second release from the trio of McGill, Manring and Stevens is a double album of material. The first disc is for the right side of your brain - the electric side. The second is the acoustic side, or left side. Disc one begins with the percolating "Umkhonto We Sizwe" which leads to the slow, heavy, and mysterious groove of "Argentine Scalp Massage," where McGill's guitar lines are often searing, cutting through like quick moving lava. Here Manring's bass hums, bubbles, throbs and growls. Stevens drumming and percussion become lethal weapons - taut, crisp, a flurry of sharp edges. Before you can recover, the band shifts gears with the jaunty, upbeat "(In Walked) Bogus Boy." But make no mistake, this isn't pretty fluffery, as there is an acidic edge to the proceedings. Some shrill guitar squeals from McGill give this, towards the end, a bit of grating feel.

There's quite a bit one could mention about Controlled By Radar as it is quite diverse. Obviously from disc to disc, but also from track to track. I mean, the easiest thing to say is you just have to hear it for yourself. At 22 tracks total I won't talk about all of them, and I truly could say something about each of them. But in some cases, my particular thoughts are too vague to be put in words... I mean, saying, "it sounds like the 3 notes in the middle of the first phrase of such and such" isn't really too helpful. Especially when I can't really name "such and such," as in the case of the moody "Cortex Of Desire." It might remind some of you of the theme music from a 70s crime drama - one I can't name at the moment, though both SWAT and Mission: Impossible come to mind. It also has a feel of incidental music of the time, with a very modern tone. That is, no 70s cheese about it ... it's how we hoped the music would have sounded at the time - serious and jazzy. So, I'll just mention a few tracks from each disc to give you an idea of what to expect (though they're not in running order necessarily).

"Cash From Chaos" is a cool fusion piece and one of my favorites of disc one. It's a dark, tour de force of chaotic sound. It is so energetic that it picks you right up and gets your heart going. Oddly, it follows "Lumumba" which features contrasts of percolating bass and percussion over atmospheric guitar ... that feeling one gets when their heart is racing but they are trying to remain calm. It makes the listener a little anxious listening to both. "Cash From Chaos" is pure energy... bouncing off the wall energy.

"I Am Totally Controlled By Radar" then takes the anxiousness of "Lumumda" and amps it up ten-fold, with acidic guitar flurries from McGill. This might just as easily been called "Have Guitar, Will Riff" as McGill seems to just let his guitar take him where it will. "Have Sex Get Paid - Part II," as we start out with bird-chirp like squeaks -- birds that could easy have escaped from The Birds. Add to this moody bass musing from Manring and tight, quick drumming from Stevens. This is not languid sex by any means... this is sex for sex's sake. A bit rough, a bit callous, but at the end of day, someone's walking away with a few extra bucks in their purse, or pocket.

"Babbar Khalsa" is a very avant-garde, "found-sound" type piece, where instruments are the means for sonic exploration -- I mean, the instrument may be a guitar, a bass, but the sound that comes out isn't your "typical" bass sound or guitar sound. In fact, if you didn't know that there were no synths involved, you'd credit those here instead.

"Puff Johnson" is something else again -- it is sci-fi, put through a Jetsons filter. Odd, fat, burpy sounds are emitted from Manring's bass and from McGill's guitar. R2-D2 has gone insane. Underlying this is a funky beat, somewhat hip-hop like beat (I guess that's Puff part?). I also thought of, at times, of a section of Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, "Run" I think... "F.E.S." also has a very sci-fi feel about it; here I thought more of the Jawas than anything robotic. I love the rhythm from Stevens here, it's very cool, kinda sexy. Yeh, still on the Star Wars kick, I see the cantina at Mos Eisley ... with some very groovy aliens groovin'. The "Bantha Two-Step" maybe... a vision that makes me chuckle. Not a Star Wars fan? Not sure what Banthas are? Replace then with elephants doing something like a soft shoe dance with their front feet only, while swaying both their back hips and tails (hips to the left, tail to the right, and switch, and switch, and swish...). Dang! What a fun note to end the disc on.

Disc two, as mentioned, is the acoustic (left) side of MMS. It has the same variety in tone and texture as the first disk. In contrast to the up note that disc one ended with, disc two begins with the gentle, somewhat melancholy, Southwest feel of "A Darkness Falls Upon Us." By which I mean the music brings forth images of beige or pale-salmon coloured walls enclosing a sparsely furnished patio, the sky just leaving twilight behind. This leads into the bluesy, jazzy piece called "Chicago Hot Plate." "Madinat Ash Sha'b" mixes things up a bit with chaos thrown into the mix as rhythms and paces change, though the transition is smooth and natural. It's another track that relaxes while it puts you on edge.

"He Is Invisible He Cannot Be Seen" is a little more atmospheric, though I wouldn't call it ambient. There is a Middle Eastern/Indian feel to it for the most part, mainly due to the sustained notes that fill in the background beneath sparse bass, guitar, and cowbell percussion. In terms of the "ethnic," metallic sounding percussion, I thought of Suspended Memories, the Steve Roach / Jorge Reyes / Suso Saiz project of a few years back. By metallic, I don't mean tinny, but as if Stevens is thumping, well, something metallic (probably those cowbells...). This also takes on a European feel as McGill plays a furious flamenco like phrase. All this is presented in throaty terms, mainly from Manring's bass, the percussion having the lightest hue.

"Hyacinth" has a more Midwest feel. Layers of guitar blend with the bass while percussion shimmers subtly in the background. This is a rather nice track -- not that the others aren't. This whole arrangement draws me in more than the others. "Lucious En Fuego" is a piece that harks back to the first disc stylistically, putting it in an acoustic context. There is a lot more movement here in the arrangement that in the two that come before, but are little more fusiony than the first two (at least to me). Though not credited it sure sounds like keys are an element here, as there's a hint of a Rhodes.

"Matrix" brings piano into the mix (by an uncredited pianist, if not one of the trio) of a piece that sounds at times rather chaotic. "Montana Realty Company" is very avant-garde, a companion to "Babbar Khalsa" from the first disk. Sometimes, music of this nature sounds as if you've got three musicians in search of a song. This may be a little too atonal and discordant for my taste.

This is followed up by the measured, ruminative notes of "A Winter's Tale." You can almost see the softly falling snow as viewed through a window, drifts piling up, pine trees accented in white. It evokes that peaceful stillness of being away from the hustle and bustle and stress of the city to breathe the clean, crisp air of the mountains. It's a truly beautiful piece and one of the highlights of disc two (along with "Hyacinth").

Controlled By Radar is an album that has something for everyone. As we come to expect from this trio of performers, both in this context and their solo contexts, the musicianship is excellent. I suppose some of acoustic pieces do wander just a tad, but always manage to find some element to get back on track. I probably had more fun as a reviewer listening to disk one than disc two, but disc two made me more contemplative. So, as I said, something for everyone, even if "everyone" is two of your own facets. Don't mistake my not speaking of this album in hyperbolic tones as an indication that I don't like it, or that I give it a four. There were some little bits that didn't work for me -- the shrill guitar bits mainly, but overall, I enjoyed my time with this CD. I have been listening to it quite a bit over the last month, which should also tell ya something.

Disc One: Umkhonto We Sizwe (2:41) / Argentine Scalp Massage (5:21) / (In Walked) Bogus Boy (4:03) / Have Sex Get Paid - Part II (6:06) / Cortex Of Desire (4:50) / Lumumba (3:58) / Cash From Chaos (5:02) / I Am Totally Controlled By Radar (9:40) / Puff Johnson (6:04) / Babbar Khalsa (2:39) / Cryptology (6:49) / F.E.S. (3:48)

Disc Two: A Darkness Falls Upon Us (3:47) / Chicago Hot Plate (4:27) / Madinat Ash Sha'b (4:40) / He Is Invisible He Cannot Be Seen (14:48) / Hyacinth (3:40) / Lucious En Fuego (3:17) / Matrix (2:55) / Montana Realty Company (3:52) / A Winter's Tale (7:06) / Seven Are Her Sisters (4:35)

Scott McGill - electric and acoustic fretted and fretless guitars and 12 string acoustic guitar
Michael Manring - fretless electric and acoustic basses
Vic Stevens - drums and percussion

Addition By Subtraction (2001)
Controlled By Radar (2002)
What We Do (2006)

Genre: Fusion-Jazz Fusion

Origin US

Added: October 13th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 828
Language: english


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