Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sean McCann – Phylum Sigh [DNT]/Sean McCann – Midnight Orchard [Roll Over Rover]

So I wrote this back in April and I finally found the notebook I wrote it in and transcribed it, anyway I apologize for the egregious 5 month delay…
From its first second Phylum Sigh, McCann’s first tape for DNT, is a departure from his previous work or least what I’ve heard of it. “Betazoid” is full of day-glo synths moving like slo-mo laser beams across the track over unadorned, plucked banjo. The synthesizer is the dominant presence here providing flickers of melody through a dizzying collage of bite-sized splinters. “Sunk Eyes,” however, is melancholic where “Betazoid” is ecstatic. Here the acoustic instrument, viola, sets the pace and the synth follows suit. It’s a real simple piece but a touching one right up to its snake charmer ending. As I alluded to earlier, McCann is exploring a new sound here and the first two pieces show him adjusting to the new elements but “Ice Age Tea,” the final piece on the side, finds him already mastering them. There is full integration of the old and the new. The piece transports you smoothly. Gentle static and rolling waves of keyboards and a bit of thumping percussion. The sounds unfold beautifully, something McCann is already known for. I’m currently writing this on a plane and this is seriously what you are meant to listen to while gliding through the Earth’s atmosphere and gazing at the clouds. Soft, calming and really heavenly but still having a real weightiness to the sounds. It’s a wonderfully orchestrated trek through space and sound—total magic carpet ride. Really it is an unforgettable experience hearing these sounds while soaring through the cloud streaked sky.
“Mango Christmas” kicks off the second side in ultra lush style. Billowing synths and hums with icy wind whistling a melody, making the track’s climate a bit chillier. The “Christmas” bit to “Mango’s” lushness. One of my favorite Christmas songs. “Meaningless Desire” has some jittery slot machine keyboards over viola and guitar and sputters quickly to a stop before remolding itself in a slightly different manner. There’s a tad more space in the second bit and I like it quite a lot. It wraps with breaking and receding waves of distorted viola. The same feel continues in “Spring Spill” lush synthesizer resonations cradling brittle, stuttering pitch manipulated keyboard which worms its way into your brain by the end. “Just Around” is quite nice featuring a somehow natural chemistry between banjo and whooshing synth. An extremely active track, brimming with melodies, quite a beauty to behold. The final track, “Look Out”, comes from a noticeably more percussive angle. I think there is some processed live percussion but most of the rhythmic feel comes from sequencer-esque bits that slowly take melodic shape.
Not sure if this is my favorite McCann work (not sure that I have one) but this tape seems more like a statement than any of his others. I’m always tuned in to whatever McCann puts out but I’m even more curious to see what’s next.
Released a little bit earlier than Phylum Sigh on Sean’s Roll Over Rover label. Midnight Orchard stands out to me as well because I’m pretty sure there aren’t really any keyboards during the 92 minutes. Viola and banjo are the main instruments and McCann wields them wonderfully. The 40 minute title track is phenomenal, by turns lovely and deeply mournful. I think I remember McCann saying it was a long recording of viola slowed down, which makes sense. It has a slightly slow-motion-like quality where every detail seems to resonate even more. The piece doesn’t sound unnatural because of this characteristic but resigned and elegiac with a beautiful bassy timbre. It’s a great piece. The other piece on the first side “Spun Around” is probably similar to what “Midnight Orchard” sounded like before being slowed down. It’s a caustic, wiry web of viola and possibly guitar though I think that’s probably just plucked viola. Despite small cacophonic clashes throughout the piece, a few melodies develop and return in the midst of the clattering layers of bowed and plucked strings.
Side B is quite different, there are 16 pieces instead of 2 and the banjo is featured prominently. The first piece immediately marks a shift into more romantic territory with an unabashedly sweet pairing of stumbling banjo and singing viola. The third “Straw Hat” (all tracks on the b-side are called “Straw Hat”) takes the same basic idea of the first piece but spreads it out into a drone piece. The fourth one features a tremolo’d guitar I think playing a rather pretty, pulsing melody, while the fifth piece resembles the previous side with only bowed instruments, still possibly viola and banjo, intertwining and twisting in the wind. The sixth piece shifts effortlessly into shimmering bells and such and the seventh is another pretty piece similar to the lightly throbbing fourth piece. Elsewhere on the tape, the eleventh piece an effected viola turns string swells into a synthy fog with occasional near fiddle-isms. The following piece is a nice misty segue into the thirteenth piece maybe the most traditional on the tape. A trundling banjo pattern makes a steady base for a lead viola melody. After two pieces deeply submerged in effects, the last track returns to the melody of the first piece, somehow sounding a tad more rustic and worn in this time around. It’s a great tape, up there with some of McCann’s best stuff.
Both are sold-out from source but definitely worth tracking down.


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