October 02, 2003

Charalambides "Unknown Spin"

For the past twelve years, Charalambides have been one of the best-kept secrets in Texan underground music. This CD is my first exposure to their recorded material, but I’ve seen them live twice before: once opening for Argentinian weirdoes Reynols and another time opening for Pelt in Houston (at the same show that produced Pelt’s limited edition album Houston 2001). Both times, the trio played around forty uninterrupted minutes of music that was too static and pretty to move around to, but way too tense and foreboding to fall asleep to. It was amazing watching these three people coax the strangest noises out of their instruments while singing wordlessly in voices that DEFINED the word “disembodied.” Charalambides’ music is perfect for standing in open, arid spaces at nighttime, waiting to cross paths with a UFO or some other supernatural being. With Unknown Spin, they’ve been generous enough to take one of their ultra-limited self-released CDRs and give it wider exposure through an honest-to-goodness record label. If anything, it definitely captures the spirit of those live shows I saw.

Hands down, this is the least rocking CD that’s ever been reviewed for Mundane Sounds; I am sure of it. I spent weeks falling asleep to this record before actually deciding to review it. That’s not a bad thing AT ALL, but it does give me the unenviable task of reviewing a record in which not much actually happens. Therefore, I will simply let the notes I took while listening to the record do the talking:

Track One: “Unknown Spin”

One guitar plays three notes over and over again at varying speeds. Two other guitars make a series of swooping, whining, and scraping noises that sound more like they came from nature than from electric guitars. The music is so quiet that you can hear someone crumbling paper in the studio. About four minutes into the song, the instruments get louder. By the sixth minute guitarist Christina Carter starts singing, her voice imitating the gliding guitars. Guitarist Heather Leigh Murray joins in with her shortly thereafter. Christina and Heather are on separate speakers, so their singing produces some very cool stereo effects. The song’s still pretty quiet, though; at one point you can hear the motor of a passing bus. The vocals gain more prominence at around the eighth minute. A heavy object drops right before the ten-minute mark, and then the guitars change keys. The instruments start chiming like broken bells for the next couple of minutes. Christina and Heather sound like ghosts having orgasms in slow motion. The guitars change key again at the fifteenth minute. There are long stretches of feedback and scraping that make the guitars sound like celli played with rusty bows. At the twenty-minute mark the song returns to its original three-note motif. Five minutes later the guitars change key again, and start droning together until the song finally ends. A full half-hour has passed.

Track Two: “Voice Within”

This track basically sounds like the end of the previous track, so the track indexing is pretty useless. The women sing “come in” very slowly, as if they’re trying to conjure up some spirits. Even though their vocals are at the front of the mix, I still can’t make out exactly what they’re saying. One of the guitars start doing something close to conventional guitar soloing. This song is only eight minutes long.

Track Three: “Magnolia”

The previous song was in D major; this one is in D minor. The guitar
soloing becomes even more dexterous. This song is ten minutes long.

Track Four: “Skin of Rivers”

For the first five minutes, it’s just Christina and Heather singing.
They’re slightly out of tune with each other, and the differences in pitch produce a cycle hum that sounds really good on headphones. It’s almost as if they’re massaging your mind with their voices. Then, everyone starts slowly banging on their guitars. They’re still in the key of D, though. This song is also ten minutes long. The album’s over, but I’m still awake and I’m FAR from bored. I want to hear it again!

(I’ve listened to this album many times since taking these notes, both fast asleep and wide awake…and I will continue to do so for a very long time.)

---Sean Padilla

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