The Back of Beyond

Jun 2, 2004 at 12:00 am

Frank Pahl, a Wyndotte-based musician, composer and instrument builder, has earned a slice of international acclaim for building self-playing autoinstruments and expressing his musical whims with the eccentricity of a mad scientist. Initially it might smack of music for the black turtleneck crowd, but enjoying Pahl’s most recent, The Back of Beyond, is not exclusive to fans of fringe.

Like much of his homespun catalogue, The Back of Beyond brims with catchy little melodic shorts orchestrated for euphonium, toy air organs and his virtuosic whistling. His instrumental bric-a-brac includes an assortment of bike horns, a “twittering machine” and something (or someone) called “Pete Repeat the sampling parrot.” Out there? Yeah, but Pahl’s highly imaginative, melodic 24 compositions make the strange trip a very smooth one. The record’s appetizers (“Watergirl,” “Tenor”) feature an unimposing, breezy ambience that introduces Pahl’s off-balanced charm. When he has you in his pocket, intentionally rough edges on tunes like “Warped #16” (which evokes incidental movements of Tom Waits’ Black Rider score) and the crooked march of “Homage to Rotisseries” don’t seem that strange at all.

The record’s finest moment comes in “Trio of the Vanishing Gods on Their Cloud,” (originally used as music for Bertolt Brecht’s U-M production of The Good Person of Szechwan). The daydreamy near-waltz showcases Pahl in top form — combining conventional melodic ideas with a gently cluttered mess of sounds. When it takes hold, Pahl’s lazy melodies have lulled you to far familiar musical shores. And once you get out there, you may never want to go back again.

Nate Cavalieri writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].