Yek Koo – Head (2017)
Life is defined by luck, chance, and intersecting streams. As the sun set on a frozen Christmas day – one of two spent alone in New York after returning from a decade spent in London, and before departing for Mexico City, two similarly orphaned friends and I agreed to brave the cold and meet for a drink in the middle ground between our homes in the Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill, and Crown Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn. To my surprise, our numbers were four rather than three – bolstered by a newly arrived transplant from LA – Helga Fassonaki.
My first encounter with Helga – a stalwart of the Los Angeles experimental music scene, and half of Metal Rouge, was enough to instill deep respect and affection. Graced by a razor sharp intellect, a humble disposition, and an adventurous spirit, I hoped that our paths would cross far more than they did in the brief period that we inhabited the same city. She returned to LA not long after I departed, and despite having not seen each other since, I hold our friendship dear to my heart. Needles to say, I was overjoyed when Jeff of Drawing Room Records asked if I’d be interested in reviewing her latest cassette.
Thought the vast majority of Helga’s output has fallen within the incredibly prolific Metal Rouge – her duo with Andrew Scott, since 2007 she has been issuing a steady stream of solo releases under the moniker of Yek Koo – Head being the tenth. Drawing its material from live performances between 2014 and 2015, it represents a striking leap in her work. With plenty of space for wiggle room, Helga’s work – both solo and collaborative, falls within the realm generally classed as Noise – historically built from enveloping washes of atonal distorted guitar, threaded with voice and other instrumentation – a successor to some of the territories charted by Harry Pussy, slowed down to a snails pace. Not unlike Bill Orcutt’s shift toward acoustic guitar in recent years – defying expectation and unveiling the depth, intricacy, and sophistication which was always present, but rarely acknowledged, Head finds Fassonaki transitioning to the openness and expanded pallet of the pocket trumpet – an instrument she has been increasingly exploring in recent years. The results are stunning and heart-wrenchingly emotive – filled with space and air – a clattering marvel which grinds, howls, and drags like a dying dog. Head appears as the liberation of its creator – imbued with a starling intimacy, a remarkable range of texture, and more transparency into the complex structural and sonorous relationships at the heart of her practice – what was always there, in crystalline focus.
Rising to risk and bravery it takes to embark on solo improvisation, the album far surpasses its challenge – illuminating the inner working of an artist, as much as the potential an expansive field of organized sound – a realization of truth, and a lens into the remarkable things to come – as inviting and surprising as it is rigorous and challenging – as intuitive as it is intellectual. Released in a limited edition cassette, this is definitely one to grab, explore, and allow to unfold. Check it out below, it’s available via Drawing Room direct.