January 14, 2002

Bows "Cassidy"

Before two minutes of the opening track "Luftsang" had passed, I already knew that I had stepped into a unique sonic universe. Pointillist waves of guitars hovered over the mix like birds in the sky migrating north. Booming drums stopped and started randomly, forcing me to question whether they were real or programmed. Myriad orchestral embellishments floated out of the speakers from the soundtrack of some imaginary romance movie. Throughout the whole song, a girl sighed and mumbled in a nearly catatonic but nonetheless captivating manner. I am not familiar with Bows auteur Luke Sutherland's back catalog, neither with this trip-hop collective nor with his previous band, the acclaimed Long Fin Killie. I assert, though, that with Bows' sophomore effort "Cassidy," he has come within a hair or two of realizing the goal that My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields set for himself before he reached his creative dead end: perfecting a seamless fusion of the gliding guitars and hazy atmospherics of dream-pop and the hyperactive, skittish beats of electronic jungle.

Two or three songs pursue an almost Low-like minimalism, using only a voice and one or two instruments to set a contemplative mood. One of these, "Cuban Welterweight Rumbles Hidden Hitmen," boasts lyrics that are indicative of Sutherland's other pedigree as an esteemed novelist. The title gives away the basic plot of the song, in which a boxer flees from a group of men who wish to kill him due to their dissatisfaction with the outcome of his most recent fight. Another lyrical highlight is "Ali 4 Onassis," in which a discreet love affair between legends from two opposing walks of life is imagined. Whereas many other lyricists would beat the listener over the head with the cleverness of such a conceit, Sutherland simply inserts subtle lyrical details that allow the listener to fill in the blanks on his/her own, such as JFK's wife cruising with the Muslim boxer "out of Harlem/and over the turnpike."

I appreciate the fact that Sutherland does not merely use words as another sound effect, which even the best artists with roots in shoegaze do frequently. However, a lot of the lyrics on "Cassidy" are indecipherable (and the lyric sheet, stupidly, only prints about a third of them), so I am forced to concentrate on the music...and what wonderful music it is! On "Man Fat," every instrument makes shifts in presence, panning, and volume every few seconds. The hyperactive high hats and slowly tremelo-ed guitars of the aforementioned "Ali 4 Onassis," when listened to on headphones, will make any listener dizzy and lethargic. The tense bells-and-breakbeats backdrop of "B Boy Blunt" is interrupted by a blast of abrasive guitar noise. "Sun Electric" closes the record (well, at least until the hidden track, which is actually listed on the CD's back cover--again, stupidly) with a sonic vortex in which all of the instruments are blurred into one whirring mass.

"Cassidy" was one of the best records that 2001 had to offer, and now that it has *finally* seen domestic release, I can safely urge anyone who reads this review to purchase it without demanding that they empty the contents of their wallets for a pricey import...which I did---again, STUPIDLY.

--Sean Padilla

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