Cornelius Boots Keeps On Rockin' in the Weird World

Edmund Welles, 2010 press photo. Aaron Novik, Jeff Anderle, Jon Russell, and creative mastermind Cornelius Boots in the foreground.

Confession: I’ve been meaning to write a feverish and swooning rave-up of Oakland-based musician Cornelius Boots‘ absurdly beautiful and strange and intelligent and mischievous and sincere and meditative and heavy-as-fuck bass clarinet chamber music group, Edmund Welles*, for years now.

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It certainly isn’t for lack of reverence for Boots or his compositions that I’ve lagged.  When suffering from blogger’s block, my editorial purview tends to be “when in doubt, crap it out.” But occasionally, there are those subjects that you can’t just casually hork up. You want so badly to do them every justice– to elevate and praise them to the highest and most lofty of misty, Middle Earth-worthy mountaintops. Boots’ ouvre definitely lives in that non-horkable category. Well, then! Having unburdened my guilty conscience…

Edmund Welles. 

Yes, Cornelius Boots and friends make music that I want throw a parade for. Or, alternately, throw my frilly undergarments at. While his group Edmund Welles definitely is not everyone’s cup of tea, it’s 100% my cuppa, and hopefully, it’ll resonate with Coilhouse readers who also love waaaay-off-the-beaten-path-no-srsly-bring-your-machete-cos-we-be-bushwhackin’ music.

Via their CD Baby page:

Edmund Welles […] has the distinction of being the world’s only original, composing band of four bass clarinetists, they invent and perform heavy chamber music. The bass clarinet has a five octave range and a huge span of tonal, melodic, and rhythmic capabilities.

Drawing virtuosic precision from the classical realm; innovation and texture from jazz; and power, rhythm and overall perspective from rock and metal, the quartet’s sound is characterized by a thickness of tone, a density of texture, absolute rhythmic precision, and the extreme use of dynamic contrasts: a dense, pulsing sound capable of expressing and reflecting the full range of human emotions.

They ain’t foolin’. It’s a massive, meticulously structured bass reed sound like nothing else you’ve heard. (Parallels have been drawn between John Zorn’s more recent works and Edmund Welles, for sure, but Boots’ steez feels simultaneously more West Coast and Far East-steeped.) Weirdest Band in the World‘s assessment is pretty spot-on as well: “The bass clarinet is an inherently weird instrument. Put four of them together in one group, and it sounds like a chorus of demon cats in heat fighting over a chicken bone. A demon chorus whose eerie caterwaulings just happen to occasionally assemble themselves into passages from Pixies and Nirvana songs.”

In 2005, they put out Agrippa’s 3 Books, which offers up original compositions by Boots that reflect his abiding interest in the occult and his talent for interpreting uber heavy spine-crunching metal. (Hilariously, Boots calls this stuff an attempt to create “Muzak for conspiracy theorists.” ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!) Additionally, there are Sepultura and Spinal Tap covers. Not to mention the most bewilderingly esoteric and brilliant liner notes you’ll find north of a Trey Spruance solo project. (Buy the goddamn CD. Seriously. No, seriously. Totally worth it.)

Edmund Welles’ second album is called Tooth & Claw, and it’s comprised predominantly of original composition that are as bizarre and heavy as anything Boots has ever written, but with more nuanced elements of avant jazz and modern classical woven into the dense sonority.

Edmund Welles’ most recent album is called Imagination Lost, and like all of the group’s previous offerings, it’s a heady, oxygenated mixture of heavy and light, power and grace, obscurity and familiarity, humor and earnestness.There’s an Iron Maiden cover (featuring Idiot Flesh legend Eugene Jun on vocals) and a bewitching clarinet-upper-joint-played-like-shakuhachi interlude from Boots; there are psychedelic rock riffs and Lynchian motown moments; there are nods to Tool and Sabbath and a shout-out to Nils Frykdahl (download the Coilhouse Magazine feature on him here) of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.

Edmund Welles: incredible, and incredibly odd. Check ’em out.

Oh! Almost forgot… additionally, Boots has released a meditative mystical ambient duo called Sabbaticus Rex featuring  Karen Stackpole on percussion, and him on various bamboo Zen flutes. Zero amplification or electronic manipulation. “This is sound, but not music. It is primordial easy-listening for dinosaurs: slowly shifting elemental improvisations from fat flutes and huge gongs, completely acoustic.” And you can hear him all over Faun Fables’ Light of a Vaster Dark, too.

*Yes, indeed, Edmund Welles’ band name is a Monty Python reference.

7 Responses to “Cornelius Boots Keeps On Rockin' in the Weird World”

  1. Angeliska Says:

    Oh man…! Edmund Welles, YESSSSSS! I have very fond memories of seeing them play at the Starry Plough in Berkeley when I went to see you play with Faun Fables that time, Miss Mer – and of course was totally blown away. I bought Agrippa’s 3 Books for my sweetheart, and we play it pretty constantly. Those guys freakin’ ROCK OUT in ways I didn’t even know were possible. Definitely want to check out those other albums! Thank you for the reminder, darling!

  2. M.S. Patterson Says:

    Wowzers. Now I -really- need a subwoofer.

  3. Nick Mamatas, bass clarinets, revisions, and is it summer yet? | Lara Donnelly Says:

    […] Some links on this fine day for your enjoyment. First comes via Coilhouse: Edmund Welles, a group I had never heard of before this morning (this is probably true for a lot of people, actually), is pretty much as badass a chamber music group as you can find. Four bass clarinets, all wailing on pieces that sound like heavy metal if heavy metal had been invented by medieval monks. Yeah. Wrap your brain around THIS. […]

  4. G Says:

    Thanks for this! Refreshingly different and interesting sounds.

  5. Lara Says:

    Holy wow. This just made my day. I’m going to blast this stuff when I get home from work. Subwoofer indeed.

  6. tjewell Says:

    love love love!
    This goes in my “when I can send a package through time” box to send to my high-school self. I played bass clarinet and was very fond of it despite its dweebiness. Clarinets don’t get the respect they deserve and bass clarinets even less, despite their awesome sound.
    The control these guys have is fabulous. I need these albums.

  7. Felicia Says:

    Though a music novice (I listen but only tinker in producing any), I’m blown away by the precision and “absoluteness” of their delivery. It’s like Mars on steroids…but nevertheless with a kind of elegant strangeness and Mercurial fluidity. And it’s really fun to drive to. :-)