Shelf Life is one of bizarre instrument builder Bryan Day’s many projects and collaborator Joseph Jaros joins him here for an hour of improv recorded last year in Lincoln, NE. I am not quite sure exactly what Jaros plays, as I occasionally hear a mistreated guitar or blurting, buzzing synth of some kind. There are also some subtle electronics and tapes being employed as well. They never seem to repeat though, so I am guessing that he is constantly changing whatever it is that he is doing. Day, of course, plays his enigmatic homemade arsenal of amplified tape measures and other improbable detritus…brilliantly. They make a good team, as Day and Jaros seem to completely share the same sparse and subtly warped aesthetic. There is absolutely zero clutter here- the two musicians display a deeply intuitive understanding of dynamics, wielding space to make the infrequent appearances of tapes and noises as effective as possible.
The music throughout “Courtesy” essentially sounds like a virtuosic free jazz drummer giving a particularly restrained and meditative performance using a drum kit made entirely out of scrap metal and stuff he found at a bad tag sale. As Day clatters, scrapes, boings, rings, and clangs along, he is joined by a surreal and unpredictable splattering of echoing noises, creaking strings, disjointed voices, bleeps, rumbles, feedback, and other unmusical sounds. The three songs here vary a bit in length, but they all adhere pretty closely to the same very likable stylistic territory.
As a pure listening experience, “Courtesy” admittedly has some limitations, as it can’t entirely transcend the fact that it is essentially a very long metallic percussion solo with no melody or repeating rhythms to hold onto a listener’s attention. However, it is also completely uncompromising, inventive, and wholly unique. This is very process-based music and it necessarily sacrifices much of its power without the visual component of Day wresting a staggering array of sometimes-massive sounds from a small and fragile-looking assemblage of odds and ends. “Courtesy” is certainly a very impressive recording, but witnessing the actual performance itself probably would have been absolutely mesmerizing. 8/10 -- Anthony D'Amico (16 June, 2010)