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Volcano the Bear / La STPO, "The Shy Volcanic Society At The Bear And Bird Parade"

cover image As fitting a split as could be, this album joins two of rock's most experimental experimentalists in a meeting of minds that, as any split should do, provides new insights into the output of both artists, creating a fitting relationship between these two diverging takes on weird.


Beta-lactam Ring

The disc opens with Volcano the Bear's five tracks, whose sumptuously layered take is, comparitevely at least, the more palattible of the two. Not that that means much here. "Our Number of Wolves" drifts from concrete scratch to ultra-slow New Orleans funeral music as covered by European avant-improvisers, while "The Boy with the Lips Inside" presents a spare beat and odd hummed melodies that trickle outward like some hi-fidelity field recording from hillsides yet uncovered, never presenting too much or getting carried away.

This comfort working with a single idea can be seen throughout here, as the extended "The Open, the Closed" presents sputtering synth lines and odd feedback that grows, shrinks, and grows again over its eight elliptical minutes. It is a compelling and, as is typical for the group, exceptionally well paced sonic descent before "Death Sleeps in the Ear" and the cosmically titled "The First Circle is the Eye" see the group moving deeper into the abyss.

La STPO, a relatively large ensemble of like-minded musical players (and I mean that in both senses) takes over from here, displaying their knack for oddly orchestrated mini-symphonies on tracks like "Guayaki," which could just as well be a meeting between gamelan classicists and early Zorn game pieces, and "Les Oreilles Internationales," whose silly and sputtering stop-starts, overrun with vocal antics, lunges deeply out of sync with any conventional genre trappings.

"Invalid Islands," opening with bent reed and string slides, eventually drifts into a kind of ether-drenched poetry before turning around and harkening toward a downtown aesthetic that's as much Pere Ubu as it is Branca, let alone Material. The closing "Colonies" is just as chaotic, jumping between sytles and approaches at a moment's notice while remaining entirely together and cohesive.

Given the strength of the music here, and the vast potential of such a tag-team as this, it seems a shame almost that the split wasn't done track by track. Given the world music influences, open sonic stances and moment's notice phrase changes of both groups, it seems like, rather than splitting the disc down the middle, this offering could just as easily alternate every other track. While the relationship of both groups is highly apparent here, perhaps there would be even more to discuss were they presented side by side and title by title. That said, this works too.



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Review of the Day

aMute, "A Hundred Dry Trees"
This is an example of a full-length that perfectly, if predictably, fulfills my expectations. aMute's track on last year's Intr_version compilation formed the undeniable centerpiece of the disc. If not the most showy piece, it was certainly the most effective, dropping in from behind the preceding track almost invisibly and, through graceful crescendos, sucking the entire sampler into its icy expanse, enough to haunt the remainder of the disc and nearly summarize the label's melancholic ethos in a eight short minutes. For his debut album, Jérôme Deuson provides not only an extended version of that song, "Aux creux des vagues, mon visage," but also seven others that match its mood easily, creating a work that seems cut from the same graying, crystalline tapestry, full of bristly folds and wide, smothering fuzz. Deuson's technique is nothing shocking, an intricate, but not over-complex entangling of effects-heavy guitar, processed feedback noise, and windy, chime-ful ambience, all allowed to dive and swoop through layers of minimal bass and the smallest of percussive clicks. None of the tracks are particularly grounded; rather they float in a structure-less haze that serves the cold, discreet passages conjured by aMute's harmonic sensibility, the same economized, somber aesthetic of his labelmates Joshua Treble, Mitchell Akiyama, and The Beans. Like his friends, Deuson's approach is geared away from bending his guitar towards extremes in distortion or processed disintegration and more towards crafting careful, meaningful builds via simple melodic strands with clear resolutions. The frosty ambiance, of scattered windchimes and stuttering drones, carries these tracks into the oblivion they require; however, Deuson's playing maintains a directness that attaches a cinematic feel throughout. Certain left-field inclusions, like muffled vocal samples and a track of naked French speech, add to the feeling of remove that I (perhaps too quickly) tend to associate with some set of fixed visual correspondents. This might form my one criticism of A Hundred Day Trees, that, for all its sad majesty, the album seems a bit limited in its expressive power, leaving me in the same place after each listen. It could be the relative homogeneity of the tracks or the similarity to other recent releases by the label, not bad qualities at all, just not enough to prove that aMute doesn't have better in store for next time.


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