Thursday, September 18, 2008

More guitars! Louder

Two today, both very guitar-centric. First Mogwai's The Hawk Is Howling as reviewed today in Dusted:

The Hawk Is Howling

Mogwai is synonomous with dynamic shifts in the same way that My Bloody Valentine has been equated with guitar distortion or Sonic Youth with alternate tunings. It’s the reliable element, the brand, the one thing that everybody knows about Mogwai: if it’s soft now, it’ll be loud later and vice versa. It’s not a bad schtick, and they’ve turned lots of people on to the power of the big surge. Chris Martin of Kinski once told me that his band only really started fooling around with dynamic shifts after touring with Mogwai - and they are not the only ones to have been influenced.

But, let’s face it: to be defined is to be boxed in. Even if you’re defined by being sonically unpredictable - for spinning out grand cinematic meditations one minute and blitzing the guitars the next - people always expect you to be a wild card in the same way. At some point, you must get sick of delivering the goods. All of which is a roundabout way to say that there are not as many ripple-to-a-tidal-wave moments on this sixth Mogwai album. There are soft songs. There are loud songs. The shifts mostly come between tracks, not within them.


"The Sun Smells Too Loud"

And while we're doing the huge guitar bands, here's a review of a new record by Black Sun Ensemble, which ran at PopMatters yesterday.

Black Sun Ensemble
Across the Sea of Id: The Way to Eden
Camera Obscura

Jesus Acedo's Black Sun Ensemble has been recording since the late 1980s, employing a changing mix of musicians and a varied ethnic palette of sounds. After a long hiatus in the 1990s, due to Acedo's own struggles with drugs and mental illness, the band re-emerged in 1999 with Sky Pilot (from which this disc's 13-minute instrumental suite is drawn) and has gone on to record three additional full-lengths and a two-disc live album in the 00s. Acedo has hinted that this latest, Across the Sea of Id: The Way to Eden, may be his last Black Sun Ensemble, and if so, it is a marvelous cap to a long and obstacle strewn career. Across the Sea of Id revisits the Black Sun Ensemble's catalogue, resurrecting not just "Sky Pilot Suite," and "Blues from Rainer" from Sky Pilot but also "St. Cecilia" and and "Baphomet's Curse" from 2006's Bolt of Apollo. But where earlier Black Sun Ensemble materials relied heavily on electric guitar, these cuts are softer, warmer and more acoustic. "St. Cecilia" lopes easily along, strummed acoustic chords intersecting with rich tones of bass, a saxophone blaring bright bits of emphasis. "Baphomet's Curse" layers radiant, slow guitar tones over drum kit and hand percussion. The mood is sunny, hopeful, glowing with positivity. "Blues for Rainer" stretches slow-shifting guitar notes and feathery violin strokes from horizon to horizon, unwinding a measured, meditative melody. These songs are melodic and easy to listen to, though not by any stretch "easy listening". Indeed, "Sky Pilot Suite" is nothing if not challenging, as it plays off droning feedback against a lambent sitar melody and morphs from slow march to urgent freakout. Yet it's never a strain, just a steady unfolding of ideas, easily followed. The newer material is also quite inviting. For the title track, Acedo hauls out his sitar, plucking a wavery, otherworldly melody in "Across the Sea of Id." Other new songs, "Eden Spirit" and "Perelandra" return to the acoustic guitar, the notes clear and warm and welcoming. If some psych conjures the cold endless purity of space, Black Sun Ensemble seems to reside in a friendly forest, light shading down between branches, birds singing.

"Angel de la Guardia"

1 comment:

gomonkeygo said...

Great BSE review - many thanks. I just found out this morning about the album, read your review and I've ordered it. Been listening to Jesus in all his incarnations for more than 20 years now and I still can't get enough.