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20 November 2010

Charalambides - 'IN CR EA SE' (Eclipse)

Time has been kind to IN CR EA SE, which I remembered as being brutal, stark and difficult when I originally bought it. I probably played it once and shelved it, which is funny because it's the only record I have by this band, whom I actually like a lot. Well, it is brutal, stark and difficult, but that doesn't mean it isn't great too. Christina Carter is relegated to chord organ and vocal duty, which is a bit of a shame because her guitar playing is usually brilliant, even visionary at times. But Tom Carter is amazing too and his tonal bends, reverb-laden explorations and perfect scrapes get spotlighted here. Side one, 'IN', is a dense, dark storm, but it's slow as a worm, like everything on this record. It's the sunrise of the album, with plenty of references to 'that Charalambides sound' that they do in their live shows. His guitar is frantic and ragged, but it never is in excess -- every gestures is carefully calculated. 'CR' opens things up a bit, a more broad landscape bathed in bright white light. There's difficulties in navigation - though the instrumentation is very minimal, its well-explored. It's the second LP where things get much more unpleasant. 'EA' starts the wall of sound - of dissonant chord organ intervals and hazy, uncertain guitar twangs. Christina's voice soars at the end of both tracks, sounding possibly multi-tracked, yet thin - it's all part of the clouds. These four pieces are obviously improvised, though I don't think completely free -- there is a focus that is overwhelming, expressed as tension that never lets up. IN CR EA SE is a long, long listen -- I didn't time it but it feels like each side is over 20 minutes -- and it's hard to tune out or allow to become an ambient blanket because it's such an unsettling vibe. The title is pretty accurate as to how the record progresses, as 'IN' feels like a gentle, pastoral memory by the time you reach 'SE'. I love how Charalambides are so aggressively experimental, yet throb on a familiar pulse. They have a mastery of subtlety and technique, and maybe this is displayed more here than on their more familiar releases. There's clearly an appreciation of tradition - of psych, folk, and minimal precedents -- I see Charalambides as mining the drift between the notes of 13th Floor Elevators' 'Dust' , another Texas dark star.

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