All sorts of jazz, free jazz and improv. Never for money, always for love.
A long-awaited project between two of North Texas’ most unique and noteworthy bands is suddenly seeing the light of day. Yells At Eels and Pinkish Black recorded an album together in April 2018. At the time, both groups had members facing life-threatening health issues. Two years later during the COVID-19 pandemic, the album was quickly prepped for release after a French label showed interest.
Yells At Eels has been at it for over 20 years, and the band is not your typical free jazz family band. On trumpet is 65-year-old Dennis Gonzalez, a retired schoolteacher who has performed all over the world with countless musicians. His sons, drummer Stefan and bassist Aaron, have been in numerous punk, metal and experimental bands. The two have also been leaders of the local music scene for several years.
On Monday nights at RBC in Deep Ellum — before the coronavirus pandemic, anyway — Aaron hosted Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions, a live music series for strange local acts and touring bands. Now in their 30s, the brothers have performed at virtually every DIY music venue in North Texas since they were teens.
Dennis Gonzalez takes a photo of Aaron Gonzalez, Stefan Gonzalez and Daron Beck after a photo shoot in the backyard of his house in Dallas on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Yells at Eels and Pinkish Black recorded an album together while members from both groups had life-threatening health issues.(Vernon Bryant / Staff Photographer)
A national touring act signed to Relapse Records, Pinkish Black has a heavy-rock-with-synthesizers style that is difficult to pigeonhole. Imagine an ’80s horror film soundtrack that is progressive and influenced by post-punk as well as early metal like Black Sabbath. The duo, Daron Beck and Jon Teague, both in their early 40s, have also been part of the North Texas music scene for decades.
“To me, it’s just pop music,” Beck says. “It’s just really dour, depressing, complex pop music.”
Back when the album was recorded, Dennis was wrestling with congestive heart failure and diabetes, and Beck had recently suffered two heart attacks.
“I’ve never been the healthiest person physically,” Beck says. “But mentally I never really recuperated from that. Anytime I wake up, I have to assess my health and take about seven pills throughout the day. I wonder if every little pain is a heart attack, but it seems like everyone is kind of experiencing that now, wondering if every cough is COVID-19.”
The two groups had wanted to work together for a long time, and with a lull in their schedules, they took the opportunity to book some studio time just over two years ago, improvising the recordings in a day. The results of the collaboration convey understated tension with a mysterious, cinematic vibe.
“When people you care about are facing life-threatening issues, it definitely puts a different spin on things,” says Teague, who recently moved to New Mexico as the album was being prepared for release. “But in this case, I think it was positive. It was good for those guys to be able to play and remain productive, even while they were recovering.”
“Being able to still do music is life-affirming,” Aaron says. “If you are having a hard time, mentally or physically, the freedom of how we play still allows for some really beautiful, transcendental musical moments, because of that or in spite of that. You just plug into the system and play what you can play. I think there was a lot of that going on with everybody in this session.”
“Daron and I had similar problems,” Dennis says. “But in my years of playing, I have learned how to play in a lot of situations. I was breathing carefully and thinking slowly, just trying to find the same language and glue these two pieces together. When I listen to it now, I am quite pleased and wonder how I did that.”
Pinkish Black provides the dark synths one would expect, but Teague’s thunderous drum work is prominent and accentuated by Stefan playing auxiliary percussion with a marimba on a couple of tracks. Stefan also provides industrial percussion by playing a shock coil. But the two bands often sound somewhat hesitant to interact with each other.
“Me and Jon are not an improv band,” says Beck, who recently mixed and mastered the recordings in his living room. With no label and talk of maybe doing another session, the project was shelved until a few weeks ago, when it was scheduled for release on May 22. “Dennis, Stefan and Aaron are masters of improvisation,” Beck adds. “It’s very organic, but at the same time there’s this stiff, electronic feel to it. It’s like a monkey in a robot factory.”
Dennis, in particular, shines throughout the record with extended techniques on trumpet, and an approach that is ambient and experimental.
“I have to sit and take it easy when I play,” Dennis says. “But I used a guitar tone splitter that gives me two notes and a little more strength. I also used a Leslie speaker, the spinning speaker you would normally use with a Hammond B3 organ. You can control the speed — I prefer the slower whirl — and if you listen on headphones you can hear my sound revolving.”
The bands seem to loosen up on the album’s title track, “Vanishing Light in the Tunnel of Dreams,” particularly with the interaction of Pinkish Black’s synth tones and Aaron’s bass. In addition to the upright bass we would expect, Aaron also plays electric bass on the album. He even provides the album’s only vocals on the stripped-down first track, which has no bass.
“With that monotonous vibe, it’s a good soundtrack for grinding boredom or existential thought,” says Stefan, commenting on how the pandemic has affected his perception of the album.
For local music fans living under quarantine, this new album is an unexpected gift.
“In the midst of packing up and moving and there being a potential worldwide collapse all around, it just made me thankful that we captured that stuff,” Teague says.
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