“Damn!” said a guy behind me in an awestruck tone at Sunset Tavern last night after local supergroup Sound Cipher finished their 90-minute set. “Oh my god… so fucking sick!” said another guy behind me, equally gobsmacked. I concur. As a music lover of a certain age, I find it very rare to have my mind blown by a local group—hell, by an international group—in the 2010s. But 10 minutes into Sound Cipher’s first-ever performance, I was convinced they were this city's most exciting new sonic development . (Personal aside: Yesterday afternoon, I underwent a colonoscopy, which can make you acutely aware of your mortality, among other things. But Sound Cipher vanquished all such morbid thoughts and made me happier than ever to be alive. [Then I thought about President Bannon and the joy dissipated.] Anyway, TMI, YMMV.)
Sound Cipher are one of those fortuitous ad-hoc arrangements that happen once every decade or so. They came together after prolific jazz-funk sax demon Skerik bonded with drummer Tim Alexander while improvising during soundchecks during Primus’ recent Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory tour, on which they both played. The ever-game Master Musicians of Bukkake bassist and Mood Organ/DIAD analog-synth master Timm Mason later came on board, and the rest is destined for history.
Sound Cipher are so new, they have no internet presence. They have rehearsed but three times. No matter. Tonight they improvised, but rather than the meandering tedium that can often ensue in that realm, Sound Cipher kept things fierce and interesting the whole night, erecting grotesquely distorted jams that terrified and thrilled with their malevolent majesty. If their sound were a person, you’d cross the street to avoid them, but you’d still gawk at the lethal weaponry they were brandishing.
With eminent producer Randall Dunn working the board, Sound Cipher maneuvered stealthily through many styles and alluded to some of history’s most adventurous musical touchstones, without blatantly emulating them. Some of the more captivating ones: Faust circa “Mamie Is Blue”; Miles Davis circa Agharta; Moebius/Plank/Neumeier’s "Speed Display"; Can’s “Flow Motion”; DAF’s “Co Co Pino”; Porter Ricks’ heroin house EPs on Chain Reaction. In addition, Skerik’s utterances on the mic sounded ridiculously sinister and Alexander—a potent combo of Faust's Zappi Diermaier and Mahavishnu Orchestra's Billy Cobham—thankfully made sure we knew he had two gongs at his disposal. Unfortunately, Sound Cipher have no further shows scheduled at the moment, but they're heading to Avast! Recording Co. with Dunn to record on March 10-11. Stay the fuck tuned.
Right now Sound Cipher appear to be a fragile entity, as Skerik’s time is divided into dozens of projects (perhaps an underestimate), Mason is going to Denmark soon to tour with Danish post-punk group Sort Sol and is moving to the California desert this summer, and Alexander—who now lives in Bellingham—has suffered two heart attacks in the last few years. Nevertheless, a band this powerful and exciting needs to find a way to persist… if only to make me forget—at least temporarily—about my own death.