This is a tragically short post, I know, but constant distractions in my personal and professional life have eaten up most of my free time in the past month. More (hopefully much more) next time, I promise. In the meantime, here we go:
Cathedral and Rum -- THE MOON IS LORD OF TWISTED TREES [self-released]
The latest dark country folk communique from songwriter Chris Hartford is by far his best work, coming across like a combination of Neil Young at his darkest (but with better singing), with the shimmering chords and lush sound of Sun Kil Moon and the mysterious backwoods after dark feel of early Black Heart Procession. The first three songs -- "Ocean Light," "Through the Trees," and "Flowers in the Rain" -- are stunning, absolutely perfect pieces of straight-up country rock leavened with generous portions of pure spookiness, and considerably more straightforward than the material from his previous albums. Things start deviating into avant territory after that, though, with the found sounds and sample experiments of "Moonray" recalling the more peculiar moments of John Fahey's forays into sound collage, and the unnerving background noises and laughter of "Bad Morning" lending a creepy vibe to the song. The production on this release is really good, too -- whereas some of the earlier material was swaddled in a lo-fi sound, this is crystal clear throughout the disc and filled with plenty of ethereal flourishes (the liner notes list nearly a dozen other contributors to the sound). Good, brooding stuff. Other standout tracks include "Caroline" and "Angelina."
Cathedral and Rum
Harvestman -- IN A DARK TONGUE [Neurot Recordings]
Harvestman is actually Steve von Till of Neurosis, so it's not surprising that Harvestman's sonic vibe is in the same ballpark as the sound of his main band. His solo sound, however, is far more psychedelic and steeped in heathen folk stylings -- the sonic attack is every bit as atmospheric as the sprawling sound found on most Neurosis albums, but it's less apocalyptic than naturalistic. It's also very, very proggy; there's plenty of drift 'n drone on this disc, but it has a distinct prog-rock flavor that hearkens back to some of the more mutant prog-rock of the seventies, albeit updated with the current fascination for noise and tripped-out pedal fever. The twelve songs here are not so much songs in the traditional sense as they are sonic snapshots of rituals in the heathen forest, and a terminal feeling of suspended animation; the songs appear to be building toward something that never actually happens. This intriguing tactic of suspense without the payoff creates an endless atmosphere of tension without resorting to tired metal cliches normally employed for such reasons, and the tones on this album are haunting and beautiful, even when swaddled in layers of noise and reverb and other forms of processed sonic effluvia. The album is almost entirely instrumental -- "By Wind and Sun" is the only track featuring recognizable vocals -- and the feel of the proceedings varies from one song to the next. My favorite moments on the album are the ones where the amorphous sound resolves into something with actual riffs and a sound clearly indebted to seventies space-rock bands like Pink Floyd and Hawkwind (see the aforementioned "By Wind and Sun"), but everything here is well-done and shot through with intense cosmic drone grooves. This is a welcome development for the drone-rock canon, which has been mostly drowning in minimalist sound or metal tropes for the past few years, and could certainly use a healthy dose of psychedelic color. At the very least, this makes an excellent background for zoning out via the recreational drug of your choice.
Mortal Manifest -- TESTIMONY [Autumn Abattoir]
What's on the menu here consists of five tracks of disturbing samples and grotesque lo-fi noise blended into sonic salad. Hailing from Israel, the enigmatic Oren Ben Yosef's tracks are built from equal parts damaged synth noise, cryptic pedal-fu, and and other strange experiments in sounds, layered and chopped to create uncertain, dirge-like soundtracks to a violent and apocalyptic future. Over the course of five tracks totaling approximately forty minutes, dark ambient washes and grinding noise are joined by fragments of crashing and bleating, not to mention ominous samples. The unorthodox use of piano for some of these snatches of sound reminds me at times of Cold Electric Fire, and in fact several of the pieces here -- especially the centerpiece, "The story about the rabbit who dug a hole in the ground and saw the future" -- recall the sound of that band's spooky masterpiece IN NIGHT'S DREAM WE ARE GHOSTS. This dedication to creepiness is only heightened by the inclusion of extensive samples of uneasy origin (often processed to sound even more alien) on tracks like ""No way out, no escape" and "Testimony" (where the bizarre sample contrasts nicely with the elegant synth drones and classical motifs of the soundtrack). The work here is subtle but potent, and consistently creeped-out in its adherence to darkness.