Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Third

Charalambides Joy Shapes (Kranky) Almost ten years ago the trio known as Charalambides showed me how to see. And what I saw was a Market Square littered with false hopes and strangled emotions, haunted by regret, but alive and breathing all the same. It's hard to put into words just what Charalambides do, but back then it was something akin to a reimagining of classic acid folk (English and American) filtered through the Dead C's murky style-grinder and written in glowing red dust across the Texas night sky. If you hear Market Square, you could think it sounds like Texas must look, yet the members would claim that that was hardly their intention, especially given the closed in claustrophobia of their home, Houston. It's not hard to hear it as a reaction to such clutter though.

Fast forward almost a decade, through a move to Austin, plenty of limited LP and CD-R releases, signing to Chicago's Kranky, another migration (Christina and Heather to Philly, Tom to San Francisco), and we find ourselves at an equally revealing vantage point. Joy Shapes functions as something of a summary of this remarkable band's existence. Almost everything here relates to what has come before and draws a concave arc between their earliest duo recordings and their more ambitious, minimalist inspired works of today. There are actual lyrics on almost all of the songs, but this ain't yo mamma's pop. Tracks like the title track do seem more accessible and revealing than other recent works though, thanks largely to Christina and Heather's incredibly gripping vocal performances. Think Buffy Sainte Marie crossed with Patty Waters' out vocal acrobatics for reference points. But it's that lysergic meandering/layered acoustic/electric guitar sound with Tom's incredible slide drones and squiggles augmented by Heather's pedal steel that proves most familiar and alluring, at least at first.

This is a devastating record, but one that slowly, and brilliantly, reveals the light of hope across the expanse of its five extended songs. There's a darkness early on, followed by the crackle of morning light. A crawling beam of light slowly heats cold dew across the day before the sun sets and reveals a purple/gray blur of patient resolve in the shimmering sky. No words can describe what I'm feeling, but it can be heard in the last track. And the body will tremble.

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