Review: Zebra Secrets – HTCH 221 (self-released, Nov 1)

It is almost invariably a good sign when one or more performers on a release are credited with contributing “barking and chains.” However, the next thing that caught my eye after that was the fact that the San Francisco–based Zebra Secrets are a trio, so who are Argus and Leica? Oh. Right. And honestly, it’s great, because the fact that the pets of the members participate in the recordings is directly indicative of the project’s philosophy and approach to improvisation: anything goes, boots (or paws) on the ground, plenty of organic looseness and abandon. John Alderman, Brent Johnson, and John Seden tracked the two ambling pieces that comprise HTCH 221 at the San Francisco Art Institute, nearly 400 miles northwest on I-5 from where the many cross-eyed hydra heads of the Los Angeles Free Music Society continue to rear, and yet the energy of the latter is very much present in the former. Anemic but effervescent electronics, scattered clomps and skitters of percussion, thrift-store electric guitars thumbed and shredded, and all sorts of other carelessly psychedelic doodads and vapors (there’s even a mandolin in the mix at one point) are the only guideposts in this stumbling march of lavender-hazed revelry, but whether you’re bumping into every single one or sliding between them like a smooth, sly snake, the contact high will set in soon.