3HATTRIO – Lost Sessions (Okehdokee Records)

Lost SessionsImagine finishing the recordings for your sixth album, but then your hard drive gets crushed by a falling piano. That’s what happened to American Desert Music band 3hattrio last summer, hence this album’s (ultimately inaccurate, thankfully) title, Lost Sessions. Only occult rituals and incantations by IT wizards summoned the data back from its binary purgatory.

Once again, the trio discombobulates listeners with ten intensely atmospheric tracks. Primarily drawing from the Utah desert landscape and cowboy history, the band artfully pulls in references from anywhere and everywhere. Sound fragments are stitched together and overlaid – the smörgåsbord of shivering ambient noise, a Doppler of violin, angular piano, scuttling banjo and muffled voices seem both familiar and utterly dislocating. Listening is like the stomach-lurch of nearly losing your footing on a treacherous path: there’s no time to get complacent.

Setting the tone is ‘In Or Out’, a paranoiac affair of whispered voices and scratchy percussion supporting a heavily processed vocal delivering what (in another life) might make a chart-topping R&B song. Hard to tell, though, as lyrics are deliberately obscured (which would usually frustrate this listener, but here adds to the delicious unease).

From the half-glimpsed, ghostly landscape that looms murkily in ‘Lost In The Woods’ where a Latin-flavoured violin part skitters across an insistent beat and low choral growls, we turn the music up loud in ‘Miss Tilly’, as elements of rural American traditional music are gleefully ripped apart.

A newer direction is the pumping dance beat at the heart of ‘Gallus’, married with banjo, metallic shimmers of guitar and a violin treated so that it sounds like some mystical ancient Eastern reed instrument.Closer to home, perhaps, is the clip-clop beat of ‘Attack Of The Shadows’, where Hal Cannon’s banjo almost wants to slip into old variety hall favourite, ‘The Sand Dance’, but pulls back in enigmatic discordance.

The loose, jazz-tinged, ‘No In-Between’ about computer gaming versus real life, runs down like an old clock just before the album’s longest track, ‘Disquieting’ kicks in to its dramatic, sinister panorama. A horror film in 10-minute soundscape form, lyrics like “Is it coming closer in the night?” surface ominously out of the sonic gloom.

The mantra-like chanted vocalisation in ‘On The Run’ harks to Native American tradition, over scurrying banjo and slurring, ethereal violin. Eli Wrankle’s talents are showcased in the brief, but gorgeously nervy ‘Never Going Home’, multi-tracking the violin to stunning effect.

Wrapping up is Greg Istock’s raw blues ‘Pushin’ You Down’, (vibes of ‘Diddy-Wah-Diddy’ / early Rolling Stones), straddling a mouth harp and loose funk beat.

In Lost Sessions, 3hattrio deliver a thrillingly unsettling, immersive sonic experience in their unique style.

Su O’Brien

Artists’ website: www.3hattrio.com

‘Lost In The Woods’ – live in the studio: