Saturday, December 3, 2011

Charalambides' "Exile": Music Review

Tom and Christina Carter celebrate twenty years making music together. This husband and wife duo produce tunes jittery, reflective, ornery, and contemplative. This eclecticism may mirror their relationship as well as their craft.

Tom plays guitar, along with Christina, who sings. With only minimal backing by two string players on one track in the New England studios where Exile was recorded over five years, her direct, rather unadorned voice dominates this spare disc. Their prowling, restive guitars wander and burrow, strum and storm.

"Autumn Leaves" opens with patterns of simple chords over the hiss of amplification before halting. "Desecrated" takes this buzz and layers it with more instrumentation topped by Christina's gentle, but insistent delivery of poetic longing. "Words Inside" tucks hints of piano into its depths, as her voice howls and moans above an angrier arrangement.

"Immovable" recalls a restless, haunted mood, as the strings vibrate and tense and release over and over, again showing the pair's characteristic repetition of silence among the guitar shapes they construct over a very "live in the studio" ambiance. "Before You Go" features a chant of "Maria" within massed guitar overdubs, rising to an uneasy climax that recalls moments of John Cale's exertions captured in "Black Angel's Death Song" by the Velvet Underground.

Some label Charalambides as psychedelic, more for the squall they sometimes raise than the quieter, reflective moments that may surge and ebb in the same song. "Into the Earth" builds from softer to sizzling tones in a few minutes, defining their chosen method which amasses their force in structures resembling those of traditional folk tunes, matched to a love of carefully sequenced distortion. "Wanted to Talk" almost strains Christina's vocal register, over a circular riff gently repeated until the tension of such plucked energy threatens to madden, instead of sooth, the listener.

Fourteen minutes long, "Pity Pity Me" as the refrain cyclically revolves as the final track. (A double-LP adds two bonus tracks not on CD). Christina tells of liberation from the factory's drudgery in the company of her lover, until ten minutes in, the guitars begin to stretch and scream. The tensile nature of the recording highlights the threat within the music, until it too, stops without warning, as did the first song on this album.

The unexpected shifts of the sounds here are not played for novelty, and are more subtle than shocking. The organic quality of this intimate, disturbing as well as comforting record for me conveys the meaning of its title well. After two decades as a couple on stage, in the studio, and in life, this anniversary record may capture the feel of how an intimate relationship mellows, tempers, and toughens. (Featured at PopMatters 11-14-11 & Amazon US.)

No comments: