The (Very Brief) Return of Gastr del Sol

In late January 2016, Akinobu Oda — a Japanese restaurateur and concert promoter — taped a red-and-black handbill demanding “Don’t disturb!!!” to the window of his vegan dive in Tokyo. The reason? The American art-rock band Gastr del Sol was dining inside.

It had been 18 years since the duo split. During the late 1990s, David Grubbs and Jim O’Rourke enjoyed an intense and prolific partnership, working together in multiple groups and running the audacious label Dexter’s Cigar. But they hadn’t seen each other since 2002, communicating only through sporadic emails. In Tokyo, they were finally face to face.

“Our breakup was hard, because what had started as a very easy collaboration wasn’t easy anymore,” Grubbs, 56, said during a recent video interview from his Brooklyn apartment, where he was surrounded on one side by rows of records and on the other by decorative plates and vases. “I wasn’t sure how it would be, but we were there for hours after the restaurant closed.”

That summit became the first move in a long path to “We Have Dozens of Titles,” a three-LP boxed set due Friday that includes the first previously unheard music from Gastr del Sol in a quarter-century. It is the end of the vault, and there will be no reunion shows or sessions.

Still, with its out-of-print obscurities and several unreleased live recordings, the compilation reaffirms just how unusual the music that Grubbs and O’Rourke made during their five-year run still is. Though their music began with two carefully intertwined acoustic guitars, it stretched to encompass orchestral fantasias, electronic abstraction and collage sensibilities imported from the avant-garde. Grubbs’s image-rich writing felt poetic and detached. In an era of plangent indie rock, they were the studied, intricate eccentrics.

Jim O’Rourke said he craved artistic freedom outside of Gastr del Sol: “I didn’t like my life being constrained by one thing.”Credit…Manfred Rahs
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