Death Ambient: Ikue Mori (laptop); Kato Hideki, Fred Frith.
Personnel: Kato Hideki (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, lap steel guitar, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, violin, accordion, soprano recorder, alto recorder, synthesizer, acoustic bass, electric bass, glass, bells); Fred Frith (electric guitar); Jim Pugliese (trumpet, percussion); Ikue Mori (computer).
Additional personnel: Jim Pugliese (mbira).
Audio Mixer: Kato Hideki.
Recording information: Guerrilla Recording, Oakland, CA; Shadow World, Brooklyn, NY.
Guitarist Fred Frith, bassist Kato Hideki, and laptop magician Ikue Mori have come together two times before, once in 1996 for Death Ambient's suffocating self-titled debut and then again in 1999 for the more twitchy Synaesthesia. Jump ahead to 2007 and they're joined by an unofficial fourth member, percussionist Jim Pugliese, for Drunken Forest, the band's most focused release if it's possible at all to call the always oozing Death Ambient focused. All the usual complaints that more finicky fans of these musicians have apply once again. Virtuoso playing is traded completely for "feel" and, as has always been the case, a dark feel that's not wallpaper ambient but encompassing ambient where creaks, groans, and otherworldly sounds envelope the listener. The big difference here is that the mossy, murky, and twilight feel of the album is rarely -- almost never -- broken by the little instrumental flourishes that appeared on the first two albums, the ones where you could go "that's Frith" and "that's Hideki." When acoustic instruments arise on "Belarus," they're achingly mournful and don't disrupt the Deliverance on downers journey at all. Pugliese is just as committed to being invisible as the usual three, and the palette of dark and eerie sounds that has defined this act is still in effect, although Mori's electronics are fuller thanks to technological advances. This is a Tzadik album for the Sub Rosa set or anyone else who likes music so mysterious they wonder if it really ever existed at all. Frith-o-philes and the downtown faithful might just call it "forgettable," but fans of one and two should have no problems with number three. ~ David Jeffries