Sunday, March 18, 2007

In praise of friends

Everyone knows that life can get crazy busy and it's during these times that you lose touch with people. You're concentrating so hard on the situation you're in that you don't have the time (and sometimes the inclination...) to keep up with folks. This especially holds true if the friendship is long distance; even more so if you've never met the people face to face.

I've regaled you with this little tidbit because I myself have been guilty of this with my Oregonian friends, Austere. As you may or may not recall, I've been in touch with these guys for several years now via the glory of the internet. Hell, we even did an album together (which was a ball, BTW).

For those unfamiliar with the Mighty A... they create some of the best ambient music around using a host of different techniques (it's all very hush hush) and have also managed to manifest themselves in two side projects: The Mystifying Oracle and, more recently, Freq. Magnet (that's "Freak Magnet", kids).

Anyway, I succeeded in falling off the map with these guys for quite some time. So imagine my surprise and joy when I received a couple of emails from them, one of which informed my that Freq. Magnet was releasing their sophomore offering, "Etoiles Du Couvercle". According to their description, the album is a tribute of sorts to Stars Of The Lid, a favorite band of both Austere and myself; in fact, the title of the CD translates to... Stars Of The Lid.

Well, not only did Austere get back in touch with me, they were also kind enough to send me a copy of the CD (along with the DVD companion to FM's first record; more on that later). I've listened to it a couple of times and am more that dutifully impressed.

Often "tribute" albums simply sound like bad rehashings of the original artist's material. This is definitely not the case here. Freq. Magnet has created a fantastic piece of work that hints of Stars Of The Lid, yet retains its own unique identity and sound.

While the vast majority of the album was created with guitar, you'd never guess this was the case. Through the masterful use of gear (including the ever present Space Echo), the melodic strums of Freq. Magnet's Fender Squire are stretched, twisted, and embellished until they sound like something else entirely and while guitar is the primary instrument on this release, each track retains its own feel.

The album begins with what sounds like a snippet from an old radio serial, quickly followed by the first instrumental piece, "Gravitational Pull". This is deep space drone at its finest, featuring an echoing guitar that almost sounds like a cello. If you close your eyes, you can feel yourself getting lost in the huge spaces inside your head. This isn't a frightening feeling, however, as the music gently wafts you along, cradling you as you look down and out across the universe. The sound of the guitar begins to morph near the end of the song into something darker and more vast and then is joined by what sounds like distant satellite transmissions.

The album then launches into the mammoth "Ballasted", an epic 47-minute foray into drift. There is a distinct womb-like feel to the beginning of the track, a feeling that you are floating somewhere dark and warm. Again, this isn't frightening, but somehow deeply comforting. The sounds of this song gently shift until the drone sounds like waves breaking on a distant shore. At about the seven minute mark, a shimmering guitar appears in this huge, echoing space and builds slightly, but never becomes overpowering. One of the most perfect moments of this massive piece occurs about twenty-two and a half minutes in as the music almost drops out around an Apollo 11 broadcast. This brilliantly placed sample of the astronauts drifting above the surface of the moon sounds as if it has been bouncing around the cosmos for decades. This hypnotizing composition eventually fades slowly into nothingness. Breathtaking.

The fourth, untitled track takes a vintage sample of "The Prisoner" and then cunningly manipulates it into something new. Excellent if all too short. Still, it is an excellent introduction into the final track, "McBride". This is perhaps the most melancholic piece on the album, beginning with a slightly muted and distorted piano that is quickly coupled with a soothing, backwards loop. Again, there is a very mellow, comforting feel to the entire affair, like lying in bed and looking out the window on a rainy day. Very satisfying.

So it is in your best interest to pick up a copy of this exciting release. Rumor has it that it will be available through Hypnos soon, but you can contact Austere directly to snag one immediately. You should, trust me.

Headspace piloting with:

Freq. Magnet - Etoiles Du Couvercle

Abstract Audio Systems - Poems For Innogen
(coming soon to a CDBaby near you)

Opeth - Morningrise
(acoustic and death metal; two great tastes, etc., etc.)

Horace Andy - Dancehall Style
(everyting iree, mon)

Bobby McFerrin - Simple Pleasures
(best cover of "Suzie Q" ever)


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