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Kevin Tomkins, "Perfectly Flawed"

cover imageKevin Tomkins is probably always going to be known for his tenure in the early (and some would say best) incarnation of Whitehouse, closely followed by his power electronics project Sutcliffe Jugend and the rock-oriented Bodychoke.  This first solo outing from him completely defies expectations, being based only on sounds generated by an autoharp.

 

Between Silences

For such a simple concept, the tracks rarely resemble each other and are based less on the "playing" of the instrument and much more on using every facet of it as a means of generating sound and textures.  Only on "Fifth Flaw" and the closing "Twelfth Flaw" is traditional playing the focus, and even within those there is a fair share of abstract clatters and vibrations, the latter being front-loaded with a dense set of sounds, but closing into pure and beautiful tones.  "Eighth Flaw" takes the strums and instead messes with the tunings, allowing the loosened strings to rattle and create their own sense of percussion.

The percussive applications of the autoharp are spread throughout the album, sometimes being untreated, but consisting of what must be items bounced on the strings, such as the opening "First Flaw," which adds in extremely quiet swelling tones to balance out.  "Ninth Flaw" marries the percussive treatment of the instrument with some Eastern-like string plucks. It is a continuous, collage-like piece that is almost too abstract for its own good, never really locking in to a specific sense of structure or cohesion.  The too short "Fourth Flaw" is perhaps the only track where editing and sequencing seems to be a dominant theme, cutting the sounds of plucks and vibrations into a tightly mixed piece that resembles what would be labeled electronica if it was coming out of a laptop or sampler.

The longer "Sixth Flaw" is perhaps the best piece here, and is nicely sequenced right in the center of the album.  The layers of autoharp are shaped into insect chatters, tribal percussion elements, and an array of disorienting tones that would make the perfect soundtrack to going up a river into a dark jungle.  The following "Seventh Flaw" continues the jungle motif, autoharp being used as a gamelan, and occasionally l ike a fiddle, possibly moving the river metaphor from before out of Africa or Asia and into some of the less settled parts of the American South.

For an album that is focused solely on the use of one instrument, Tomkins has used what sounds more like old fashion experimentation more than technological processing, yet for the most part channels the creaks, groans, and vibrations of an autoharp into diverse and varied compositions.  While it lacks the brutality and aggression of his other projects, it retains the structure and composition that set Sutcliffe Jugend apart from many similar noise bands.

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Review of the Day

Greg Davis, "Curling Pond Woods"
Carpark
There's a level of innocence and melodic clarity present on this disc that makes me wonder why it hasn't received more recognition. Then the determining factor hits me: this is too sweet, almost comical in its lazy strolling. Greg Davis obviously has an ear for gorgeous sounds an the ability to craft elegant stretches of sound, but unfortuneately it seems as if he doesn't have the ability to create a coherent record. All the instrumentation is from traditional (i.e., non-electronic) sources and then warped and rearranged in various manners by way of laptop. The heart of each instrument is present in the mix so each instrument is readily identifiable; the sound of rain, birds singing, and other environmental sounds make their way behind the instruments and then... nothing. Almost all of these songs have absolutely no progression and if they do, it takes six minutes or so for any movement to happen. "Improved Dreaming" begins with the charming sounds of a toy music box chirping away above the sounds of a cartoonish galaxy full of twinkling stars and wisps of astral dust and then flows into the sound of woodwinds sighing out an exquisite melody... over and over and over again. The whole thing runs six minutes plus but it could've had a more stunning effect at perhaps half that length. One track wouldn't normally bug me so much, but there's so much excellent happening that it angers me at how dull it becomes because of repetition. And the problem is infectious. I could do without the singing, too. While the album might intentionally have a whimsical feeling, the vocals don't add to that, they simply sound cheesey and a bit out of place. Curling Pnd Woods has a lot of excellent spots, but those excellent spots wear off quickly. I recommend it in small doses; two tracks at a time is more than enough too keep the sweetness level low and the monotony at a minimum. These tracks could've captivated me had they been released as a series of EPs or singles.

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