The first sounds from Chef Menteur emerged in an run-down New Orleans hotel on the wrong side of town just before the New Millenium, in cryptically marked four-track cassettes. Since then a slow build, a soporific drone, a pulse in the middle of the night with broken tail lights intermittent, receding on the three-lane avenue towards the brewery, the liquor shops and the ladies of the night, interrupted by the occasional gunshot.In a smoke-filled room barricaded against the outside world — but a plexiglass layer where the window should be — like alchemists in a mad-scientist’s lair with just as many otherworldly and unholy devices, they concocted their signature sound, synthesizing drone-rock with ambient soundscapes and mixing psychedelic undulations with post-rock deconstructionist arrangements. Sometimes hip-hop, sometimes techno, sometimes avant-noise, sometimes even lounge… there was no frontier that their Sound-empire could not conquer.Chef Menteur released the epic We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire in 2005 to great critical acclaim before a typhoon in her fury scattered the band and the rotten core at the heart of America all but doomed an entire city. In early 2006, depsite the grave warnings of a one-toothed soothsayer, the band regrouped in New Orleans and was among the first to play shows to the shrunken, mold-stained city, or what was left of her, helping curate the “Proud To Swim Home” badge of insanity/civic pride/defiance/black humor and subsequent charity compilation Proud To Swim Home: A Backporch Revolution Compilation For New Orleans with their friends at Backporch Revolution.
Whether by accident or design, Chef Menteur positioned itself upriver to other New Orleans music; prioritizing recordings over live performance; focusing on texture and mood instead of rhythm, harmonics over melody; using electronics, echo units and drones to create ambient soundscapes — all, incongruously, in a tourist city full of funk-jazz bands, jam band groovers, and blues-Cajun-zydeco.And yet for a so-called electronic outfit, not everything about Crescent City music is foreign to them: every song incorporates some element of improvisation, and live guitars and drums always play a dominant role in tandem with the myriad of electronics. Core instruments in their arsenal: electric bass and guitars, vintage and modern Moog synthesizers, Farfisa Mini Compact organ, electric sitar, and a maddening array of analog effects and looping devices.
On one side, they’re compulsive tapers in the practice room, where a trusty tape machine archives many an improvisation; these are later scoured over for the best sounds and ideas. On the other side, many arrangements are carefully built up and arranged. A final recording can consist of live takes or looped sections of improvisations, or both, with additional overdubs, sometimes layers of guitar feedback and analog keyboard drones.Chef Menteur is at its most creative in the studio and increasingly, their recordings have included acoustic instruments, including (but not limited to) sitar, harmonium, hammered and Appalachian dulcimers, banjo, mandolin, and percussion.And sometimes they’ll do things like add field recordings of natural and city noises made with a portable recorder… or “found pieces” such as old answering machine tapes at thrift stores… or the rants of AM radio callers and public access TV preachers. Sometimes even the unstable zoetropic bleeps of their Drum Buddy, a handmade analog drum machine invented by New Orleans’own mad organist Mr Quintron, and most recently an optical theremin and other inventions built by Dan.
Depending on your mood (or theirs), Chef Menteur might bring to mind the ambient minimalism of Brian Eno, Zoviet France, or Stars of the Lid; to others the noisebending drones of My Bloody Valentine or Spacemen 3; dark surf echoes of Angelo Badlamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack; analog bleats and beats of Boards of Canada or Autechre, the 20th century schizoid psychedelics of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd or Suicide; the guitar-electronic fusions of Can and Neu!; and the tape experiments of looping pioneer Steve Reich or collagists Negativland.