A Wingless King

by Writ On Water (2008, Cypress Shade Recordings)

It’s been 8 years since Writ On Water has released anything new, their last release being 2000’s Pelléas EP. But even back then, their music was stuck even further in the past, specifically in the halcyon days of 4AD Records, and artists such as Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil. Therefore, it should come as no shock that A Wingless King, the group’s newest full-length, sounds somewhat like a musical artifact unstuck in time.

A gloomily atmospheric post-punk/4AD tone permeates the entire disc, even on the more “relaxed” numbers such as album opener “Angie Swirls In Pastel Summer” and “Wondertime”. And on songs like “Dead Give Away” and the dreamy closing track “Things Only Heaven Knows”, it coalesces into something quite spell-binding. All of which was something I was more or less prepared for.

However, what I wasn’t necessarily prepared for was how experimental and left-of-center A Wingless King would be. Their previous releases, specifically 1992’s Sylph, revealed that the group wasn’t content with simply being clones, but rather, would venture out into left field from time to time. But that’s even truer on A Wingless King.

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In The Garden Of Ghostflowers

by Black Happy Day (2006, Silber Records)

Black Happy Day describes their music on In The Garden Of Ghostflowers as “ambient roots music”.  As with all ambient music, Black Happy Day’s amorphous, drifting sound often leaves the listener with very little point of reference.  But unlike the typical ambient approach, which leaves the listener within a somewhat blissful place, Black Happy Day leaves the listener smack dab in the middle of a foreboding, constantly shifting environment.

The duo’s vocals are layered and shifted slightly out of phase with normality thanks to generous portions of reverb and echo.  Adding to the harrowing, dreamlike tone are exotic drones, amorphous metallic tones, and shuddering walls of dripping sound that ooze, reverberate, and shimmer within and throughout the duo’s sculpted vocals.

Such an approach can be intriguing and even enthralling at times, but it can also become tedious.  In The Garden Of Ghostflowers has a very solemn, plodding air about it, which is only enhanced by the often portentous lyrics sung, chanted, and intoned by Vanflower and Renner.

Not surprisingly, In The Garden Of Ghostflowers‘s strongest moments come when the album is at its most roots-y.  Here, the band’s sound warms up slightly and strands of more traditional instrumentation (guitar, banjo, dulcimer, harmonium) drift within hearing range, offering something a little more solid and substantial to lean on.

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Selections From Europe 2005

by Dead Can Dance (2005, The Show)

Several weeks ago, I wrote that the folks from The Show were releasing a “Best Of” compilation from the recent Dead Can Dance tour discs.  Entitled Selections From Europe 2005, it was a two-disc set containing 20 tracks culled from the band’s various European performances.

Having missed out on getting one of the “real” tour releases, I quickly plunked down the $36 or so for a copy, which arrived just before all of the wedding madness ensued.  I’ve been listening to it quite a bit lately, and it’s quite impressive.  For starters, the sound quality is amazing.  These are no mere bootlegs, but rather artist-sanctioned recordings made directly through the soundboard and then cleaned up and remastered.

Listening to these recordings, you get a real sense of just how overwhelming this group must be to experience live.  From Brendan Perry’s rich baritone and Lisa Gerrard’s angelic voice, to the wide array of esoteric instrumentation, it’s all captured in stunning detail.  The song choices are quite interesting, spanning the band’s career as well as Perry and Gerrard’s solo work (and there’s even a gorgeous rendition of This Mortal Coil’s “Dreams Made Flesh” thrown in for good measure).

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No Man’s Land


Dream Into Dust


Chthonic Streams


Let’s try something new.  Rather than immediately tell you my impressions, I’m going to ask you some questions.  That way, you can already have an opinion before I force you to read mine.

Here we have Dream Into Dust’s “No Man’s Land,” a 4 song EP released in 1997.  First off, let me describe the cover art.  The cover consists of two images - a bombed-out city from what I assume is the roof of a church of cathedral, due to the stone statue, and a picture of some trenches, the bodies of soldiers barely visible.  The art on the disc itself is the body of a dead soldier, stretched across barbed wire.  Does this imagery A) repulse you and wonder what kind of person thumbs through books to find these images or B) present a powerful image of ruin and decay, of man’s cruelty to man, and comment on the true nature of the world we live in?

Second question.  What do you think of lyrics such as “We stand among the broken statues/shadows in our eyes/All around us the truth destroying the hollow echo of lies” (“The Lost Crusade”), “The sun is a black flower of despair/Twelve rays shower the earth with shards from the void” (“Dissolution”), and “Faith and despair are one/they drive us to the same ends” (“Seasons In The Mist”)?  Do they A) sound silly and contrived, like the artist is trying too hard to be dark, eerie, and frightening (or reads too much H.P. Lovecraft), or do they B) hit you as powerful and moving, dovetailing quite nicely with the way in which you view the world?

Third question.  Listen to the provided audio sample.  Does it A) sound dark and disturbing, like something you’d expect to hear in an old Hammer horror film or from someone who needs to get out more, or does it B) create compelling soundscapes full of dark, yet powerful movements that create the backdrop for the emotional lyrics mentioned earlier?

If you answered “B” to any of the questions above, you’ll probably like this album, or at least see it as a good addition to your collection.  While not too original - artists like Death In June and Les Joyaux De La Princesse have all done this kind of stuff - it’s fairly well done.  It’s tense enough to stand up to fairly active listening, though if I subject music of this style to close scrutiny, it almost always fails to keep my interest.  However, Derek Rush and crew do a good job of keeping the atmosphere tense, without ramming it down your throat.  And although words like “experimental soundscape” usually cause me roll my eyes, I actually found the soundscapes more enjoyable than the song-oriented pieces, which is rare for me.  I’ll admit that the lyrics do nothing for me.  They just sound too much like the stuff I wrote when in my “goth” phase.

if you answered “A” to any of the questions above, you will hate this release.  In fact, your reaction will probably be similar to that of my friend’s mom who was so concerned about my musical tastes that she wanted me to make her a mix tape so as to make sure my young soul wasn’t being unduly corrupted.  I’d hate to hear what she’d think of this one.

Eating The Sea

by Soul Whirling Somewhere (1993, Projekt Records)

Every once in awhile, you purchase an album that makes you completely reconsider everything else out on the market.  For me, one such album is “Eating The Sea,” the Projekt debut from Soul Whirling Somewhere, a band out of Arizona.  Everything about this album, from the music to the lyrics to the packaging(lovely aquatic-like photography which really helps set the mood) is exquisitely created by Michael Plaster, the sole member of Soul Whirling Somewhere.  The album begins with the instrumental “One Of These Days Some Eyes Will Be Opened,” a song which sets the musical groundwork for the album.  Soft, gentle, minor-keyed synth washes that seem to roll over and through eachother, such is the formula that is used to perfection by Plaster.

The music is consists of primarily gentle, spiralling synths, but also features soft acoustic guitars and very minimal percussion on some tracks.  Above all of this soars Plaster’s youthful and powerful voice, adding an almost innocent, choral quality to the music.  Plaster wears his heart on his sleeve, but instead of dangling it in front you, he invites you to see it with some of the most powerful and personal lyrics I have ever heard.  On “Wish” he intones: “If a word could have changed where I am now/Would I’ve wished if it were?/Dreams hand in frailty and glimmer out of reach/The threads of imagination—thinner than air.”

On “Landed”(my favorite track), these words are sung powerfully and gently: “And I had said the few things I’d wanted/That, we all agree, frees our soul/Because no one every wanted/A memory to chain them to a word left unfulfilled.”

The songs are sparse yet warm, like Plaster is inviting me to hear revelations of his deepest anxieties and feelings.

I cannot recommend this album highly enough.  I find it to be the perfect album to listen to at night, with the lights off and the blinds closed.  This is powerful, introspective music and means a great deal to me; it’s very rare to find an album that does that.  “Eating The Sea” never ceases to amaze or inspire me everytime I listen to it and this, in my opinion, is what music has always been meant for.