A teardrop-shaped plastic box called an Omnichord is the particular electronic gizmo creating the distorted, music-box-like chiming that opens “Digging Holes.” Introduced in 1981, it’s a homely thing, filled with slanting rows of small buttons, but also a then-futuristic “touch plate,” for mimicking strumming; and yet it is not the only unusual item this Madison-based band has in its musical bag of tricks. A baritone guitar is another—this being a low-voiced six-string that can sound like a bass but also be played like a regular guitar. Front man Nick Whetro’s minimally oriented sense of arrangement is yet another and probably the most important of the band’s idiosyncratic aural facets.
“Digging Holes” has one line of melody—it’s what the Omnichord sketches out at the beginning—and this is what we hear in and around offbeat accompaniment that veers from a reggae-like organ shuffle to Balkan-style trumpet and back again. The song develops slowly, but the stark interplay between the organ and the baritone guitar is oddly inviting, and when the “normal” guitar joins in, along with the faintest drumbeat, about a minute in, its offhand lead lines over the underlying syncopation feel for a moment as if this is all the song needs to be about. And, in a way, because the song itself barely exists—is the one repeated melody line a verse or a chorus or neither?—we really are captured, throughout, by necessarily passing moments, by sounds that appear briefly and move on (a series of four percussive slaps we hear between 1:46 and 2:00; the gate-shutting guitar sound that precedes the trumpet solo at 2:46; et al). Even those elements that persist a while, like the trumpet, or the ghostly, intermittently heard slide guitar, have the effect of being somehow apart from the song, adorning its minimalist skeleton but never supplanting it.
Icarus Himself is Whetro on vocals, guitar, trumpet, and sampler, Karl Christenson on the baritone guitar and Omnichord, and (so newly added to the lineup he’s not in the pictures yet) drummer Brad Kolberg. “Digging Holes” is a song from the band’s Mexico EP, which was released in May on Science of Sound. MP3 via Science of Sound.