In some alternate universe singer/songwriter/writer J. Hubner is a mid-level improvisational jazz musician who lives in outer Queens and makes ends meet by running a used book stand in the Lower East Side. He’s a loner and a grump who has a gigantic beard and a cult following and keeps a flask nearby. He stays up all night self-recording album after album, practically giving them away to fans before quickly moving on to his next sound. His nemesis is John Lurie, and his rent is past due. The actual J. Hubner lives in some small Indiana town, has a handful of kids and a wife, works a day job and plays rock music on the weekends. If he has a beard, it’s not very bushy, and if he’s a grump, you wouldn’t know it. He drinks craft beer out of bottles, obsessively collects records and writes about music for several publications, including this one. Similar to Bizarro J. Hubner, Real J. Hubner is constantly recording new music, and he also practically gives that music away before moving onto his next project. By now, if you at least sort of keep up with indie rock outsiders, you’ve probably heard at least one of Hubner’s records. Some of them are released under the moniker sunnydaymassacre, and some of them are released under the moniker goodbyewave. Earlier this year Hubner released a solo album under the name J. Hubner. Now we finally have Cambodia Highball, Hubner’s latest project, started as a way to explore his more experimental side. Cambodia Highball’s debut record, the epic Odd Geometry, is out now, released by J. Hubner himself, DIY style. When asked about the project, Hubner had much to say: “I wanted to makes lots of noise and pretend I was Can, electric Miles, Explosions in the Sky or Klaus Dinger. Over the last several years I had begun to explore experimental and instrumental music as a fan and wanted to explore it as a musician.”
After recording a few Cambodia Highball tracks alone in his basement a few years ago, Hubner lost track of the project. Then, earlier this year, he was approached by one of his oldest friends, Shane Darin Page, about recording some experimental music. The idea was to loosely record some shoegaze-, noise-rock- and art-rock-inspired improvisational jams. The duo decided to get together for three hours at a time on Saturday afternoons and more or less hit a record button and see what happens – one man on the drums and the other on guitar, then switch, adding details later. Start with a simple idea and see where it leads. Hubner would maybe scratch down a few lyrics as Page worked on a baseline. The inspiration, as we can definitely hear around the 10-minute mark of “On Brighter Days (She Sings),” was to tap into the duo’s love for electric Miles Davis albums like In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew.
The result is a four-cut double album that clocks in at about 73-minutes. It’s a mostly instrumental post-rock album that features a very heavy 70s jazz influence. The four tracks are all cut up into movements that transition nicely, adding up to the equivalent of nine or 10 lengthy songs altogether. At times the music is sparse and quietly detailed, and at other times it’s groove-and riff-driven, almost reminding of one of Trey Anastasio’s jazzy side projects. We hear bit’s of Can’s Tago Mago, Loose Fur’s Loose Fur, Sonic Youth’s Murray Street, Miles’ 70s stuff and much more. The record is, as Hubner himself says, “spontaneity incarnate … the total opposite of what I’ve done musically up to this point … recording a 15-minute song based on a half hour field recording of a rain storm and kids playing doesn’t jive well [when making pop songs], but with Cambodia Highball, that sort of thing is encouraged.”
To say that Odd Geometry is my favorite thing Hubner has done to date would be a massive understatement. While I do like his Beatles- and Wilco-inspired pop records just fine, I found myself obsessing over Odd Geometry. Sure, a lot of rock n’ roll guys have tapped into Miles and Can and Faust and Neu!, but not like this. Odd Geometry, to me, sounds like the kind of record Loose Fur would make if they got drunk for a week and finally decided that they didn’t care if they disappointed their fans. It also sounds like a record that a fan of 70s era experimental music would love dearly. That’s quite an accomplishment.