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Area C, "Charmed Birds Against Sorcery"

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cover image Area C’s newest release borrows its theme from a passage in Claudius Aelian’s On The Characteristics of Animals (written around 200 AD); specifically one that states that doves can protect themselves from wizard attacks by using bay-tree shoots for their nests.  From the same book, I also learned that beavers often elude predators by chewing off their own testicles. I suppose I‘m digressing though. I should probably mention that this is an excellent album at some point.  I will find another forum for my ramblings about our delightful and industrious mammalian friends.


Students of Decay

Providence's Eric Carlson has been performing as Area C since 2002, largely alone but sometimes with occasional collaborators like Joel Thibodeau of Death Vessel.  His work has historically been made with an arsenal of a guitar, a farfisa, a sampler, and a recorder, but he appears to have left the farfisa in the closet this time around.  I found some pictures of him performing live and was surprised not to see a laptop sitting on-stage with him, as this album seems very meticulously composed and features a healthy amount of electronic glitchery. Regardless of the enigmatic process, something undeniably remarkable has been emerging from his nest of pedals and wires lately:  this first album for tireless drone-purveyors Students of Decay shows a marked evolution from Area C's earlier works.  Charmed Birds unveils a warmer, more rhythmic, and more distinctive aesthetic.

"Composition Journal" opens the album with a lazy looping  and shimmering drone that is intermittently disrupted by stabs of white noise.  The rhythmic foundation of the track is a locked-groove that approximates what Neu might sound like after taking a near-fatal amount of downers, which suits the track beautifully: anything more intrusive would break the fragile, sleepy spell that the multiple layers of guitars have painstakingly woven.   As the track progresses, it is masterfully enhanced by some sublimely beautiful treated-guitar washes and given emotional color by minor-key low-end swells.  Around the midway point, the rhythmic throb is removed to reveal a languid and sensual bed of sparkling ambient bliss.  That, however, is quickly enveloped by a swarm of electronic glitches which themselves ultimately dissolve into an outro of incandescent mournful swells.  

The rest of the album largely follows a similar (albeit sometimes less stunning) vein, with few exceptions (like the sparser and darker "Of Set Purpose, No Arrangement").  However, I am more than happy with the aforementioned vein, as Carlson far exceeds similar artists in his feel for melody, dynamics, and arrangements.  He also exhibits a purposeful deliberation that is all too rare in the underground improv scene.  Bluntly speaking, drone music constructed from guitar loops has the potential to be meandering and spectacularly, infuriatingly dull.  Carlson skillfully avoids this pitfall with an intuitive understanding of how long a particular theme can unfold before it becomes tiresome, as well as a knack for graceful transition.  He also grasps that even the most beautiful, warm, shimmering drone can start to seem syrupy and boring in large doses, so he has artfully expanded his tonal palette with harsher crackling and rhythmic throbs.

There are several other striking tracks here, but I am most fond of "Sleeping Birds" (which is very effectively enhanced by a crackling cut-up field recording of deceased poet Robert Greeley) and the epic twenty-minute title track, which marries elegant slide guitar to a slow-motion crackling pulse and an endless melancholy backwards-sounding guitar loop.    

The English language does not contain a sufficient amount of synonyms for "shimmering," "nuanced," and "warm" for me to effectively describe this album. I am thoroughly impressed.  Carlson's earlier albums have been quite promising and likeable, but this is the work of a formidable artist hitting his stride (but presumably not his peak).  



Last Updated on Sunday, 10 May 2009 14:28  


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