The Timeout Drawer: Nowonmai
Consumers Research & Development

Remember fusion's glory days when albums by The Mahavishnu Orchestra (The Inner Mounting Flame), Weather Report (Mysterious Traveler), and Return To Forever (Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy) exploded with an impassioned energy their albums could barely contain? Sadly, aficionados also may remember how quickly the genre ossified into overly complex time signatures and self-indulgent grandstanding. Though a similar fate could still befall 'instrumental rock' (the term 'post rock' currently outlawed, it seems, within certain circles), the wondrous Nowonmai ('I am no one' phonetically backward) serves definite notice that The Timeout Drawer has no plans to go gently into anyone's good night. Formed in 1999, the Chicago quartet follows up its Presents Left for the Living Dead EP (Chocolate Industries) with an apocalyptic full-length that strikes a perfect balance between compositional intricacy and fiery execution.

Compositions are epic and episodic, with the group moving from placid moments to crushing climaxes with aplomb. Despite the material's complexity, it never sounds forced but unfolds naturally, an impression largely attributable to the group's telepathic interplay. By turns melancholy and crushing, the eight pieces are gorgeously arranged, with the group's guitars-moog-bass-drums core augmented by strings and, on “Blue Eyed and Filled With Horror,” sombre horns; the group even deepens the wide-screen scope of “This Narrow Room is World Enough” with the soft lull of a flute. The album's longest piece, “Bursting With Tears, I Commit To Destroying You,” smokes and rages with a Crimsonesque fury, the guitars ferociously roaring before an electric piano brings the mayhem under control. A delicate interlude at the song's center shows the group as comfortable with understatement as it is searing meltdowns of barracuda riffing, flaming synth splatter, and pummeling martial rhythms. When the guitars collectively stampede through “There is So Much Love,” the effect is pure heaven. Read forwards or backwards, Nowonmai is one beautiful noise.

A final note: the album would be even sweeter had the group included its recent cover of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells (issued as a limited run 7-inch under the title The Exorcist) as a hidden track, even if its inclusion might have ever-so-slightly upset the balance of the all-original full-length.

November 2005