May 15, 2006

Charalambides "A Vintage Burden"

For those who appreciate experimental music, Charalambides is no longer merely a band, it is a well-respected institution. Over the past decade and a half, the duo of Tom and Christina Carter have made music that's often complex, occasionally difficult, and almost always beautiful. "Commercial" is not a term one associates with their music. But times change, circumstances change, and what might have been difficult to appreciate a year or two ago might have more widespread appeal a few years down the road. Case in point: the sudden emergence of underground 'folk' music as an accepted and appreciated (and exploited) style in the mainstream "alternative" community. Thus, the music of people like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom and Sam Beam and Animal Collective is now much more "mainstream," and they have obtained an unprecedented visability that simply woud not have existed five years ago.

With all of the aforementioned changes in perception and acceptability, it's quite stunning, then, to discover that Charalambides' newest work, A Vintage Burden, is easily their most accessable release to date. With the recent departure of Heather Murray, the band apparently decided to use that opportunity to venture into a different sonic direction. Gone are the cold, chilling, slow ambient drones and quietly beautiful hour-long epic compositions. In its place are warm, organic and beautifully lush ballads that could quite easily be labelled 'folk'. The duo's new direction is, at first, somewhat of a shock, but it doesn't take long for that initial shock to be replaced by admiration and love for their new-found sound. Hearing the quiver in Christina's voice on "Two Birds" and "Spring" is a touching experience, making their already beautiful melodies even more gorgeous.

The most amazing aspect of this seemingly new direction? Even though the music is now stripped down and stylistically different than previous records, ultimately, Charalambides' fundamental principles are the same. It's only a minor shift in perspective, really; take away Christina's hauntingly beautiful singing from "There Is No End," "Spring," or "Two Birds," and the instrumentals could easily fit on any of the band's previous releases. Tom's gorgeous 17-minute instrumental "Black Bed Blues" proves this point; it's a warm number that sounds quite gorgeous and new, yet it's pretty much the sort of thing you'd expect to hear on a Charalambides record. Only on the distinctively acoustic "Dormant Love" does the band actually achieve a truly "folk" sound.

A Vintage Burden is an impressive record, because it takes a lot of skill to make a record that's true to your well-established formula, yet sounds radically different than anything that preceeds it. Then again, there are those who would say that is one of Charalambides' greatest strengths. Either way, the beauty of A Vintage Burden cannot be denied; it is easily one of the duo's finest records.

Listen To: "Spring"

Label Website: Kranky

1 comment:

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