The Lineup

Jon Mueller’s Death Blues

Milwaukee, Wis.

It’s limiting to call Jon Mueller a machine, but if you listen to the Wisconsin drummer long enough, the thought will necessarily cross your mind: On 2007’s splendid Metals, his debut for the late and sorely missed Table of the Elements, Mueller played incredible tense snare rolls that suggested a heavy metal band suspended in swiftest motion for the better part of an hour. He wove noise through the drums, but mostly he depended upon the interlocking waves of sticks against skins to build shaking clouds of massive sound. He later did much the same for Physical Changes and then, in 2010, with the dulcimer-and-drum meditation, The Whole. To see him play any of this stuff live was to watch a marathon of resilience and stamina—a machine, cracking the kit with relentlessness.

But if you’ve heard Mueller’s work in the brilliant post-rock renegades Collections of Colonies of Bees (a band he has since left) or in the Bon Iver side-project Volcano Choir (a band reportedly working on another record), you understand that Mueller’s drumming represents more than the work of some cold machine. He swings with grace and attention to narrative that depends on more than repetitive motion or unfailing physical features. These qualities—the sheer force and focus of Mueller’s playing and the anthemic understanding in which he invests it—coalesce in his latest project, the eight-member dirge army Death Blues. Delivering the promise of The Whole and Metals in ostensibly infinite dimensions, the self-titled debut from Jon Mueller’s Death Blues patches the wide gaps between Swans and The Staples Singers, between sacred throat-singing and Godflesh. Mueller’s drumming remains both anchor and centerpiece, but a web of hammered guitars (yes, like a dulcimer) and ghoulish harmonies add grandiosity to Mueller’s climbs and collapses.

Jon Mueller is one of the most mutually powerful and provocative drummers working today. Death Blues, due later this year via Hometapes, is one of the most potent expressions of his abilities and ideas yet. —Grayson Currin