"One Step Forward, Two Steps Back" fades in on a whine of feedback, and also the tinny waver of what sounds like an electric guitar played with a violin bow. It's the opening track on the live disc of Surviving Death/Alive Why?, and, at first, it's what you'd expect from Bill Brovold and his fellow experimenters in Larval. But then these chopping guitar chords fall in, and the drums, and a honking sax, and suddenly "One Step" is a bustling and brawny churner that juts its chin at any attempts to place its genre. That's the way Brovold likes it, and it's what makes his work with Larval so exciting it's experimental without the implied quotes or elitism. Proof: "One Step" is taken from a 2006 set at Xhedos in Ferndale, one of least elitist places on the planet. (Brovold, of course, departed New York City and its famed downtown scene for Detroit in the mid-1990s.) Alive Why? continues in the same vein, blending repetition with unpredictability and always finding the sweet spot between frenetic electric instruments and the warmth of Larval's brass and bowed elements. (At more than seven minutes, the workout of Rhys Chatham's "Guitar Trio" is a highlight.) Surviving Death is the studio portion of this set, and its pace is more deliberate. The hints of crazy are spaced out, delivered between quiet piano meditations ("The Hospital Visit"), threatening Gun Club-like dirges (the 11-plus minute title track), and "Funk=sex2," where Brovold and Larval sound like a loose and ripping bar band, if bar bands played funk in arch, chart-slicing time signatures. There's nothing elitist about making mathematical, experimental music sound like a jam session among friends.
March 9 at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-6622. With the Blackman.
Johnny Loftus is the music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.