Perfect Sound Forever

The Enigma of Thymme Jones


by Greg Dixon
(April 2010)

Chicago musician and multi-instrumentalist, Thymme Jones (b. 1962) has created a considerable amount of remarkable and exciting music throughout the last few decades, mostly in collaborations with other local musicians. Thymme (pronounced "Tim") is the founder of the musical group Cheer-Accident, which has remained intact for well over 25 years despite multiple changes in their line-up. Jeff Libersher, who has been playing guitar with the band since 1987, and Jones remain the longest continuing members of the band. Jones has also played in You Fantastic!, Brise-Glace, and Yona-Kit, all important (yet short-lived) bands that are related to the music of Cheer-Accident. Jones' musical output is difficult to categorize, because he has achieved notoriety both with his musical achievements with Cheer Accident, as a solo artist, and with several other bands. He has also played as a session musician with many other artists. In addition, Jones has worked since 1994 as a performer and actor featured on Cheer-Accident's television show, Cool Clown Ground.

Jones' longest running project, Cheer-Accident, has just released their sixteenth album, Fear Draws Misfortune, in 2009 on Cuneiform Records. Independent record labels including Complacency, Pravda, and SKiN GRAFT Records have released Cheer-Accident's fifteen other enjoyable, yet challenging albums. SKiN GRAFT Records released almost all of the music that Jones created with the Cheer-Accident related bands.

Cheer-Accident's genre-blurring music incorporates styles as diverse as the classic rock of AC/DC and Led Zeppelin; the math-rock of Don Cabellero, Helmet, and Shellac; the progressive rock of Genesis, Yes, and King Crimson; the Rock in Opposition style of Henry Cow and Univers Zero; the performance art and whimsical melodies of Zappa; the Zeuhl style pioneered by Magma, and many more. Cheer-Accident is aware of the multitude of influences from which they draw their inspiration and appropriate these styles creatively. Their ability to blur the lines between different musical genres has kept their music unpredictable and interesting.

Cheer-Accident's drums, electric guitars, and bass typically drive their music forward with heavy, angular beats and rhythms. Jones is an ingenious craftsman of rhythm whose unique style of playing drums is immediately recognizable. His drumming can be extremely precise and repetitive, but also incorporates elements of jazz along with improvisation. The most intoxicating and hypnotic feature of Cheer-Accident's music is that the rhythms are often grouped in off-kilter phrases, or mixed meters, that are intensified further by strong beat syncopations. As the unusual rhythms can be disorienting at first, it is quite easy for the listener to get lost within the various polyrhythmic strands of their music, but enjoyment only increases upon repeated listenings. Furthermore, overdubbing is utilized to create complex contrapuntal aggregates of grooves. Sometimes, the length of these grooves can differ between the separate instrumental parts, creating subtle changes in phase relative to one another. This approach to polyrhythm resembles the layered, minimalist ostinati in the music of Steve Reich. At the same time, the approach to mixed meter, ostinati, and primitive rhythms resembles the sound of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" or "The Firebird."

Cheer Accident's "Blue Cheadle," a song from their latest album Fear Draws Misfortune, exemplifies their pension for tight, angular, and mixed-meter grooves (see the transcribed example of this first phrase here- Acrobat/PDF file). In the first 8 bars, the guitars play a mixed-meter pattern that alternates between 5/8 and 4/8 while the drums appear to maintain a consistent 4/4 pattern. Musically, this first part has a pronounced polymetric effect where Jones' drum beat slides in and out of phase with the metric accents of the guitars.

In the second section, Jones still emphasizes a straight-ahead 4/4 pattern and the guitars now subdivide Jones' beat. This section disrupts and contrasts with the polymetric effect of the first section and the band's rhythms suddenly come together. The guitars' rhythms naturally subdivide and reinforce the meter or groove that Jones has relentlessly held onto throughout. During later passes through this groove, Jones plays with the polymetrical relationships that his drumming creates.

In addition to mixed meter and polyrhythmic complexity, Cheer-Accident often uses distorted instrumental sonorities for dynamic, and expressive effect. This occurs especially with the electric guitar(s) and bass, and even Jones' drums. Recordings of Cheer-Accident's drums are often distorted to sound if they are in a metallic cellar, such as in "Insomnia" from the album, Salad Days. An extreme example of distortion occurs at the closing of "Track 29," from Introducing Lemon, in which the recording becomes so compressed and distorted that it sounds like your stereo system is gradually breaking down. Along with distortion, Cheer-Accident dramatically incorporates extreme and contrasting dynamics into their music. For example, at the mid-point of Introducing Lemon's "(The) Men's Wide Open," after playing softly for over a minute, they shift suddenly to a very loud dynamic for the second half of the song.

Jones' music created with other bands helps to contextualize the work of Cheer-Accident. Brise-Glace was a band active during 1994 that featured Jones on drums; producer/gadfly Jim O'Rourke on guitar, organ, and tape splicing; electric bass improv virtuoso Darin Gray; and former Flying Luttenbacher (and later Cheer-Accident member) Dylan Posa on guitar. They created one full-length album, When in Vanitas..., and just a few singles. Brise-Glace is unique in that their music sounds like a synthesis of an experimental rock band with the electroacoustic sounds of O'Rourke's studio, mixing, and editing techniques.

Yona-Kit was an offshoot of Brise-Glace that featured all the members, minus Posa, in collaboration with Japanese heavy metal guitar player and vocalist Kazuyuki K. Null. Null has a powerful, ear-piercing distorted guitar tone with an extreme boost in treble. Yona-Kit released just one self-titled, full-length album. Its first track, "Franken-Bitch," is a delightful yet disturbing rumpus highlighted by the inimitable shrieking voice of Melt-Banana's Yasuko Onuki.

You Fantastic! was a three-piece noise-rock band with a fairly strong jazz influence, active from 1996-1998, consisting of Jones on drums and brass along with two ex-members of Dazzling Killmen: Darin Gray and guitarist Tim Garrigan. They collectively made two EPs and one album, Homesickness. The music on their full-length is a complex network of disparate recordings that were made at various times (1994-98) and locations and later recontextualized into the album.

Some remarkable examples of Jones' distorted drum sound mentioned earlier occur in his musical projects outside of Cheer-Accident, especially with Brise-Glace and You Fantastic! Brise-Glace's "Stump of a Drowner" contains a classic, metallic Jones drum beat with mesmerizing overdubbed grooves and heavy distortion. Similar versions of this unique drum sound can be found on both sides of Brise-Glace's 7" record "In Sisters All and Felony"/"Angels on Installment Plan." Heavily distorted drum beats also occur on Yona-Kit's "Slice of Life" and You Fantastic!'s Riddler EP (untitled pieces, 1 and 5), along with tracks from Homesickness (specifically, both versions of "Slowly," and also "Phoneless"). The metallic drum beats on Homesickness are emphasized further by what sounds like a very creaky bass drum pedal or perhaps a rusty swing set.

Extreme dynamics are also a prevalent expressive feature in Jones' other bands. The heavily blasted, overdriven moments often serve to mark the highest peaks of their remarkably wide dynamic range. You Fantastic!'s Pals EP is one of the best examples of this. Pals consists of a single expansive piece just under eighteen minutes, whose form is marked by a slowly evolving and continuous crescendo. What begins as a jazzy, lethargically slow dirge at a soft dynamic steadily climbs in volume. By twelve minutes into Pals, the texture gradually begins to thicken, Jones starts to play faster drum passages, and You Fantastic!'s sound emerges into a bombastic barrage of intense noise reminiscent of a soaring freight train in close proximity. After a period of time, this powerful noise is suddenly cut off and the piece returns back to its opening musical material now with an even softer dynamic than before, practically inaudible. The extreme range of dynamics utilized by You Fantastic! in Pals is unusual in rock music, but very effective.

Brise-Glace, Yona-Kit, and You Fantastic! are very different from one another, but they have much in common with one another and they all have a markedly different sound due to Darin Gray's treble-heavy bass playing. These related groups also have a tendency to play at slower tempos and generally not reach the faster speeds encountered in Cheer-Accident's music. However, like Cheer-Accident, each of the other bands is interested in creating complex polyrhythms or layers of sound, extreme dynamics, and heavily distorted sounds. It is impossible to listen to each of these bands without hearing correlations between the groups. The single most striking factor these groups have in common is Jones' distinctive drum style.

Jones also plays a multitude of different instruments. His two solo albums, Career Move (1996) and While (1996) were written for piano and voice and piano quartet respectively and contains no drums. In addition, Jones also plays brass and woodwind instruments including horn, trumpet, euphonium, and bass saxophone. He has played brass and woodwinds on several of his own records, and as a multi-instrumentalist on many remarkable albums by other artists: these include Bobby Conn's spectacular albums; Rise Up! and The Golden Age; Jim O'Rourke's mesmerizing Bad Timing; and the beautiful, heart-breaking Red Apple Falls by Smog, just to name a few. Jones' session playing with other artists has proven to be a vital part of many recordings, especially from Chicago's independent music scene.

Jones' talents exceed even beyond music with his work as a lead performer and actor on the local access television show Cool Clown Ground which has existed since 1994 and often features music videos by Cheer-Accident. The show is a video springboard to document Jones and Cheer-Accident and in certain ways serves as a video documentary of their lives. Their music and Jones' performances are the vitality of the show.

In several episodes of Cool Clown Ground, Jones participates as a live call-in host. He talks to callers who appear to be calling the show endlessly about a strange topic or question such as the topic "State of the Economy" with the question, "If I came to your house with a pizza, would you tip me?" Jones actually works as a pizza delivery driver in real life and this topic hits close to home. When a caller asks, "How did you become a pizza delivery guy?" Jones answers, "By not making any money in music for decades."1 (The lack of financial success of Jones and Cheer-Accident is also a common topic in interviews.) Jones' bewildered demeanor and deadpan delivery can make even prank callers uncomfortable. He often stares off into space as if completely unaware of the phone conversation or remains perplexingly still and silent. The bizarrely humorous, amateur nature of Cool Clown Ground is reminiscent of the absurdist amateur aesthetic of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, or a Dadaist, twisted version of Wayne's World. Cool Clown Ground's humor and improvisatory nature can make it hard to turn off. Ironically, part of the show's appeal comes from their intention to allow the show to be tedious, aimless, and boring.

In all, Jones' multifaceted artistic output as a performer, session musician, and actor is incredibly endearing. He has been a hard-working and prolific musician for three decades, despite little financial success. The music that he has made with Cheer-Accident, Brise-Glace, Yona-Kit, and You Fantastic! is full of wonderful examples of polyrhythms, distorted sonorities, and extreme dynamics. Each of these groups helps to contextualize and inform one another. Cool Clown Ground also illuminates the perception of Jones' persona and the music of Cheer-Accident. A forthcoming documentary by Adele Schmidt & Josť Zegarra Holder, Romantic Warriors: A Progressive Music Saga, will feature Cheer-Accident as one its main focal points and will hopefully introduce their music to a wider audience. In a pre-release clip from the documentary, Jones says with regards to Cheer-Accident's commercial failure, "I think we're just gonna keep doing it no matter what. At this point, it would be almost silly to try to stop."2 With over twenty-five years under their belt, a fantastic new album, and so many great past recordings, one can only hope that Jones and Cheer-Accident never stop making music.


Footnotes

1. See this YouTube clip

2. See this YouTube clip


Also see the Cheer Accident website



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