Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I'm glad no one left me any hate comments regarding my recent theistic declaration or whatever that was (wink, wink). Jesus was a social radical who was into hallucinations and mysticism. Hippies, punks and art-junkies alike should appreciate the culture jamming possibilities. I wonder if anyone ever tore John Fahey a new one for releasing two Christmas albums? Great albums btw! Tis the season to be fingerpickin'.

Various Artists "Gold Leaf Branches" (Digitalis) 3CD

In a year that will surely be marked as the year of the wyrd compilation, one definitely takes the "freak folk" cake (pardon all hip-speak clich├ęs). Not to suggest that the other three or four documents that've surfaced recently on like-minded labels aren't entirely definitive albums; they are. And don't even get me started on this! "Gold Leaf Branches," Digitalis Industries' stab at the all encompassing underground world music hypno-log, is a 3CD summation of all that is Foxy Digitalis the e-zine, Digitalis the label, and by extension a larger world community of avant trippers and sonic soul mappers. The constant release schedule of Digitalis and its Foxglove subsidiary has yielded some of the most consistently fascinating music of the past two years. Without FD, artists like Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood, Terracid, The Lost Domain, Hush Arbors, Keijo, Stuart Busby and James Blackshaw (just to name a few) might still just be obscure blips on the underground radar. Not to suggest that people wouldn't have caught on, but thanks to Brad Rose, his wife Eden and their team of sonic excavators, a lot of diligent work and aural intuition has yielded sweet fruit for the select multitudes.

Oklahoma is like Texas, deceiving in its iconic imagery, boundless in its artistic integrity. It's even mystical, this rectangular box of lakes and prairies where cultures clash, wheat grows, wind blows and illegal drugs are processed/consumed daily--and it's also the home of the Flaming Lips! But this here is not "drug music." This is closer to spirit music or--to borrow a phrase--old magic. Other labels in the region, namely Anticlock and Maritime Fist Glee Club have offered their own glimpses into the Middle American sonic headspace, but none has covered what's happening in the musical underground today with such range and devotion. Digitalis's output is simply inspiring, not to mention overwhelming, and this is precisely why a compilation such as "Gold Leaf Branches" is so necessary. It somehow touches on all of these local aspects, while flying off and leaving borders behind at the same time. From conception to sequence, quality to quantity, this is a brilliantly executed compilation, and a perfect introduction to the sprawling, elusive sound world that FoxyD and so many others have come to exemplify in recent years.

Each of these three discs would make a fine introduction into what's variously termed psychedelia, free noise, acid folk, avant sound sculpture, ethnic drone, minimal noise, fractured pop. Whatever phrase you want to drop into the porridge, it's probably at least touched upon here. Six Organs of Admittance turn in a crisp live recording of "Thousand Birds," sure to whisk any tormented soul to the holy mountain. And Ben Chasny isn't dead, folks! Kuupuu unleashes a smatter of dancing spirits and percussive clatter on "Haava" before Stuart Busby plays a haunted looped trumpet on "First Steps," brilliantly grafting restraint with probing spiritual investigation. Hala Strana's "Fanfare" is equally inspired with its rush of haunted drones and jangly acoustic meditation--classic Jewelled Antler ecstasy. Alligator Crystal Moth's (Mr. Digitalis and one half of the Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood) "Epicenter Crystal" breaks down the elements into pure cosmic energy. The Gray Field Recordings combine minimal acoustic plucks and ethereal chants on "Rune of the Moon and Endymion." James Blackshaw's "No Ghosts" is a Basho incantation of fingerpicking raga guitar that's as powerful as anything I've heard from the man. "Friday Morning" features Timothy, Revelator's spectral banjo plucking and haunted baritone vocal. Pefkin summons the ghost of early 70s Nico with her eloquent "Blast Beach," and Silvester Anfang turns in crusty acoustic guitars and coursing feedback that any Dead C fan should appreciate. Then there's the devastating "Ruination of the Runaways" by Elephant Micah, which was recorded live in one take and drips with heart-aching humanism every step of the way. Haunted, inspired, sad folk pop at its finest, but the same could be said for Kulkija's "Hijaa Hiivin Pois Aurinkoon," though it is a tad more Finnish.

The second disc features a genuine highlight in Charalambides' "Voice Box," which sounds like a rawer Mirror with Tom Carter's slide meshing against Christina and Heather's vocals and organ, all coaxing minimal striations across a luminous space. The North Sea (Mr. Digitalis himself) combines ethereal acoustic guitars, effects, birdsong and vocal into an ethereal pop blessing called "Guiwenneth of the Green Wood." The Weird Weeds (The Laudable Pus) layers two songs, one on top of another; the gentle art pop "Soda Jerk" is beset with the primal lust of "(Sex With Strangers)," making for a truly disturbing juxtaposition. A moody electro psych swirl is rendered in the Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood's "Missing Peace." Leighton Craig & Eugene Carchesio combine angular guitar thwacks, horn squawks and bowed strings on "Here I Give Thanks No. 1." Rameses III employs delicate floating acoustic guitars on "The Tidal Draw." Snowfox explore a dreamy shoegaze wash on "Love Style One." And then there's the fantastic trad folk psych of Ireland's The Magickal Folk of the Faraway Tree's "Being Here Has Caused Me Sorrow," a show-stopping moment of gentle acoustic guitars, accordion and gorgeous harmonies. Wax Ghost conjures a minimal tone poem of harmonium, voice and bells on "Fall city." The Golden Oaks meld high pitched tones with meandering acoustic guitars on "Grower's Communion." And folk chanteuse Marissa Nadler turns in the haunted "Lilly, Henry and the Willow Trees," from her brilliant "Saga of Mayflower May" album.

Disc 3: Drekka invokes the spirit of Current 93 and old hymns with its live rendition of "Possibilities." Anvil Salute conjures a gentle folk drift with "Vines Through the Window." Hush Arbors weaves a tender psych folk spell of longing and devotion on "Far Away I have Been," which eventually snowballs into a haunting windstorm of distortion. It's one of the most affecting tracks I've heard from Keith Wood yet. The Lost Domain gives us the damaged chamber jazz of "Death Dances," which segues to the haunted fractured folk pop of Lau Nau's "Hidas Kuula," assured to make some neck hairs stand at attention with its layered siren vocals. "Death Dealer Blues" is another choice moment, coming to us from Wood & Wand (featuring the Rose), as in Wooden Wand, Keith Wood and Aaron Rosenblum playing live in a backyard in Knoxville, TN, and getting philosophically tribal. Agitated Radio Pilot fashions a minimal glide of dreamy surreal feedback on "Innumerable Night." Terracid (one half of the Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood, solo) combines bows, jaw's harp and guitars on the short and sweet "Sky Love This Day," and Dead Raven Choir (who to me personally is incredibly inconsistent, and about as likely to amaze as grate) strikes cryptic gold with the clanky acoustics, fuzz and spoken word of "We Will Not Whisper." "Unborn Child" sees Nick Castro teaming up with B'eirth (of In Gowan Ring) for a live number. "Lullaby," a gorgeous moody psych folk number from The Does, features effects and slide guitar beneath a tender fem vocal. Mike Tamburo plays looped harmonica to reveal a shimmering aural waterfall in "No More Dripping From the Windsor's Beard," and continuously surprises with his various stylistic approaches. Beautiful and transportive in the best way. Closer, Finland's Braspyreet returns things to the oblique with "Kuu Putoaa," a nightmare of fractured folk guitars, off-key vocals and ominous metallic drones. In a word: WEIRD!

So there you have it, damn near the longest review I've written in '05. Not everything on these 3 discs is up to par, it's true, but more often than not I find myself truly impressed and occasionally knocked out by these numbers. There is so much range here, a seemingly endless reserve of DIY possibility. Each artist is unified in that they are doing it themselves, for themselves, and the precious few who might care to listen. The packaging is minimally characteristic of other Digitalis/Foxglove releases, with just enough information to reveal who’s doing what.

1 comment:

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