Colin McLean and Andy Moor have been playing together for nearly a quarter century. Until 1995, they played electric bass and guitar respectively in the Dog Faced Hermans, an Edinburgh (later Amsterdam)-based quartet that melded punk energy, folk lyricism, and jazz exploration back when that was still a novel thing to do and whose live performances were so thrilling that on any given night during their decade together they were more than likely to be the best rock band on the planet. The Ex recruited Moor even before the Dog Faced Hermans broke up, and McLean has periodically joined them as either a soundman or touring bass guitarist, most recently on their tours with Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria.
But the music on "Everything but the Beginning" rarely references that shared history of playing songs. Everything on "Everything" is improvised. Nine of its 11 tracks were recorded during encounters between the two musicians and a dance troupe at OT301, a former squat that is now an artists’ space; the dancers sat out a couple other pieces recorded in the same space. McLean plays computer rather than bass guitar, and the combination of free-wheeling guitar and digitally stored or generated sounds more closely resembles Moor’s improvisational encounters with Kaffe Matthews and Yannis Kyriakides.
McLean isn’t averse to contributing fixed rhythms — he slips a dubstep throb under Moor’s decaying chords on "Mingiede" and the two men lock into a ferociously tense groove comprising kalimba samples, barbed-wire guitar, and some bass that brings to mind Jah Wobble wading through the tar pits. But he’s just as likely to add sounds that seem to come from inside Moor’s figures, or to work directly upon them rather than back them up.
Moor is one of the most rhythmically gifted guitarists on Earth, so he’s quite capable of generating propulsion without assistance. But in pairing with electronic musicians, he has found a setting that affords him maximum freedom to set in motion kinetic sequences of chiming harmonics and fading reverberations without knocking into anything.