"Tracks 6 and 8 are driven by variable-speed Fisher-Price popcorn popper," the liner notes of Scavenger Quartet's We Who Live on Land read. Assuming they're referencing the percolating, wheel-mounted children's toy, it's an interesting choice for a combo that also features saxophone, flute, upright bass, Farfisa organ and the various implements employed by leader Frank Pahl. But that's how Scavengers play it on this record. They're interested in the shifty place where instruments meet what were formerly non-instruments; they like to exist between description. Opener "Marvelous Argonaut" is a silvery, back-alley lullaby, its zigzagging melody the sort of thing an organ grinder with a villainous agenda might decide to play. The tensile plink of a banjo guides the brass in "Fine-Haired Medusae," and "Savage Sawfish" begins with chanting and layered percussion before the wheezing of some unknown electronic instrument encroaches on the party. Scavenger Quartet draws confidently from jazz and sound track music, and in fact, two of this album's compositions are based on classic movie themes. But there's also a connection to Chicago's post-rock movement the stylistic and membership migration between Tortoise and Chicago Underground Duo as well as the studied, equally improvisational work of groups such as Kieran Hebden's Fridge. After a while you stop wondering what year this music is supposed to be from, or even what genre, and let it unfold like the rousing and unpredictable yarn that it is. As "Sea Mirage" surfaces on gentle swells of organ and recorder, it dawns on you that the brief excerpt that appears on We Who Live on Land might shift and turn into a half-hour masterpiece in a live setting. Which is fantastic, especially because these guys are local. Would you rather read about a guy manipulating a toy to make rhythms, or see him do it in person?
Saturday, Aug. 19, at Bohemian National Home, 3009 Tillman Ave., Detroit; 313-737-6606.
Johnny Loftus is the music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.