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Brad Adkins' Big Red

Brad Adkins is best known as half of the art duo Charmbracelet and as a sort of lo-fi post-Baldessari conceptual artist (although some recent sculptures of perforated bottles suggest that he's expanding his repertoire and vision). Nobody had him pegged as a musician or a sound artist, and yet Marriage Records just released Big Red, Adkins's first CD. Big Red is mostly an assembly of one-sided conversations that Adkins has held in the proximity of a microphone. In a highly casual manner, he discusses b-boy posturing, three different sorts of magicians, Marlon Brando, and above all, grande rojo, an enormous red jellyfish discovered in 1998.

Two things stand out on listening to Big Red: one is that this CD perfectly encapsulates Adkins's perpetual state of working through ideas. Every time I see Brad in public, I seem to interrupt him in mid-thought, many of which seem half-cocked, and many of which seem to be genuinely onto something. It wasn't until listening to Big Red that I realized this happens every single time I see him--underneath his black hoodie, the wheels always appear to be turning.

The second striking feature of the recording is the hesitancy with which Adkins puts forth his ideas. In his visual art, his gestures are always small and made of mostly cruddy materials (Xeroxes, masking tape, plastic water bottles). Verbally, he's equally tentative, frequently ending ideas hopefully with "you know?" and "or something?" It can be a bummer position; sometimes it's tempting to shake the artist, to give him the old "Come on, man. Say it. Mean it." It's obvious that Adkins would if he could, and Big Red approaches this desirable lucidity.

Recorded in what sounds like someone's studio with people talking in the background, typing at a keyboard, and noodling on a piano, the CD is a sort of Richard Linklater-directed version of My Dinner With Andre. Adkins postulates on the loneliness of Brando, mackerel that feed upon one another, and the social function of daily Britney Spears news stories on Google News. Motifs of authenticity and subliminal mimicry recur, served up through interesting metaphors and stories. Big Red slaloms between "Wow, I never thought of it like that" moments and "I can't believe they left this part on the CD" moments, and winds up sounding like a recorded sketchbook of Adkins' brain.

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