Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dark economics

Brian Pyle's solo spinoff from the Starving Weirdos, aptly-named Ensemble Economique since Pyle played everything himself, released its third album this past summer, a gorgeous vinyl package in Amish Records' Required Wreckers series. Standing Still, Facing Forward moves away from the Ensemble's more industrial earlier releases, with a sound built up from bowed strings, winds and environmental recordings, overlaying slow melodic fragments to create thick vibrational textures. The vinyl format is an appropriate choice, as it provides the opportunity for two extended suites instead of the continuous sequence on compact disc, and each side has its own character.

Side one opens with With You, At Brandy Creek, a melancholic elegy played mostly on cello, multi-tracked into a dark and woody choir. Pyle avoids a classical sound by reducing the vibrato in his playing and using a sustained bowing, so the various melodic lines combine into a thick alluvium. The melodies themselves hover around a few notes and fairly small intervals, and the bass line plays in a steady dirge-like rhythm. He adds a little percussion on Chamber of Light, wind chimes over a surging tremolo in the cellos. The strings build into a rush of traffic and environmental sound, a resonant blast where the listener can barely pick a melody out of the wind. The final track on side one, Strangler Figs, is darker, with percussive crashes intermingled with rain, thunder while flutes hover around a minor second and the cellos weave a subliminal parallel.

Side two is considerably more ominous, opening with a ritualistic Angkor Wat, In The Mist. The strings from side one are replaced with brass, flutes and percussion, with prominent declamatory horns taking the foreground, restlessly circling around three adjacent notes. There's a very creepy bird, barking incessantly and persistently in its own robotic rhythm, while the whole piece is underpinned by surging metallic waves. The darkness continues with Night Escape On Water, The City In Flames, strings and percussion that build to a thunderous roar. The thick and close textures include various indistinct noises and strange overtones in the background as the plaintive melody summons disturbing cinematic images. The album closes with On The Threshold, Through and Through, where flutes and a sustained reedy notes struggle to be heard above environmental sound and noisy overtones before the piece quietly fades out.

Standing Still, Facing Forward is available digitally from the usual suspects, but the vinyl packaging is superb. It includes little information about the recording, but a lovely sixteen-page booklet of aquatic reflections in pencil by Stacie Jane Meyer, dark and murky images that visually parallel the music. It's available through various distributors, or directly from Amish.

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