Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Brambles - Charcoal

Published on A Closer Listen.

Mark Dawson’s debut as Brambles is packed with mystery and buoyed by austerity. It’s not common to hear an album whose source instruments can confound and comfort at the same time. The intellectual in us will sometimes have a hard time figuring out what instrument is what, but inevitably the reptile brain will rejoice without caring.

The opening pair of tracks sets a stage for sombre and wintery feelings. “Such Owls As You” utilizes a peaceful piano motif and the softest accents of saxophone this side of twilight. One can draw a lot of connecting points to the label’s flagship duo Nest who similarly can make anything one looks at rich with importance. Mysterious winds or sirens occasionally drift in and out of focus, sounding entirely organic and a bit haunting. Throughout we hear field recordings like the fluttering of wings coupled with dreamy interpretations of classical instruments.

“In The Androgynous Dark” delivers a chilling romanticism that is at the heart of the Brambles sound. It’s the first instance of any percussion, a hushed brushing echoing into the undergrowth, and it’s punctuated by a melody that sounds as if it’s being played on a piano made of ice. Clarinet, strings and guitar make for a rich and soft pillow of sound, one that you might rest your head upon when the bittersweet truths in life consume the mind.

Charcoal is just warming up, however. “Salt Photographs” is the album’s fulcrum at nearly seven minutes, effortlessly changing from a string quartet sounding one shade shy of paranoid to an optimistic Peter Broderick shuffle. There is a rich soundtrack quality to this album, but not in “it’s made for a movie” kind of way. This is a soundtrack that begs a movie to be made in your mind. Most artists do great things when they simply respond to their own life. It feels like a miracle to us, the folks who have no idea how someone can get to this place where art is manifesting so clearly, so wonderfully.

When I listen to Brambles I am hearing an artist who is pouring his life into his music. He obviously has spent hours crafting this work and probably doesn’t care deeply about being recognized for it. This is the hallmark of the Serein label. Through each of its major releases (this being the third) the artists’ music has been a creation of stark necessity. Each composition calls for certain instruments all the while having a clarity of expression. A fellow left to his own thoughts for hours hunched over a piano in a communal artist house for months could come up with such a performance, as Dawson did at the Painted Palace in Melbourne where most of this album was recorded. It has been said that this is a night time album, and it was the most fragile of hours when Brambles likely broke through and solidified his melodies and major compositional cornerstones. But I hear a poignant album that can grace our most quiet of times or punctuate a wild event with a knowing caress. This is delicate music which, like a flower, only lasts for so long but is built upon a foundation of a need to live well and live beautifully. Bravo. May you find your bee.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dead Sea Apes - Lupus

Published on A Closer Listen

Hold the space. Light the candles. Stir the brew. The ritual is about to begin. The curiously named Lupus begins with a strike of a singing bowl: an invitation calling our reptile minds into action.

Confident and thick as a galaxy, this album gathers up a whole bunch of psych and prog influences and pours them out like black coffee. It’s the coffee you drink while in some Byzantine rite of passage (no you can’t have cream!). Each sip feels mystical and heavy, to be savored by the deepest of olfactory nerves. The pace is relaxed yet full of momentum, demonstrated to perfection on “Knowledge and Conversation”, a 16-minute piece that grows like mutant mycelium in an abandoned city. Repetitive guitar themes keep one foot on the earth as constantly shuffling drums and bass lines help pilot the ark of electronic weather and energy.

Based in Manchester, UK, Dead Sea Apes draw from a lot of influences. Their fondness for the kraut-masters Can comes across in the way they tailor their layers. As it goes, Lupus is a jam record by design, the one-off recordings later studied and enhanced with more layers, sounds, drama, and the like. “Something To Do With Death” pits a mechanically drowsy rhythm with a Simon Scott vibe, telecasters twinkling and stratocasters growling. Guitars perpetually bloom on top of others in loops for a good twelve minutes. “Blood Knot” sounds like some (un)happy accident, as an arachnid beat with tambourine joins up with a terrifying metal chord – for about a minute. The variation between moods and approaches on each track keeps this album highly engaging.

Lupus is psych rock meditation music, and the reason it doesn’t run out of steam is the band’s sense of dynamism and drama. Dead Sea Apes play slow, and thus more pockets of space open up to enhance what’s being played. Some folks are just savants at knowing when to ratchet up the tension at the right moment, or draw it out over a matter of minutes. Grails do this impeccably, and here Dead Sea Apes do it at a more glacial pace. But it’s a black glacier, and it trails fire behind it, spitting ash as it rampages through hillsides and villages in the Roman countryside (just you wait for the climax on “Wolf Of The Bees”, you’ll see it). I wasn’t aware this would be part of the ritual, but one doesn’t argue when the mirrors open doors.