Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Caethua/Shep and Me - Wrecks & Rescues/Tube-Mind [Lighten Up Sounds]

This LP from Lighten Up Sounds is a reissue of a split tape originally released by the label back in 2008. I never heard the tape but apparently it didn't sound especially great and this thick ass slab of 180gram vinyl rectifies the situation. This thing does sound perfect, it even comes in one of those plastic, anti-static inner sleeves (come on people let's bring those back! I love those things...)
Clare Hubbard's Caethua project occupies the first side and after her excellent showing for Goaty Tapes a while back I always expect good things out of her. Her work here doesn't disappoint.
Hubbard's side is called "Wrecks & Rescues." She's not yet done with the titles as the side is laid out as two parts, "Part 1: In the wake of March Where we begin the ends" and "Part 2: In un-muscled land Where we and the sea begins," with each part containing two songs which also have their own titles.
"Burnt Out Snow on the Side of the Road" is a really great, nimble piece of home-recorded folk music. Field recordings of swamps and forests burble underneath as Hubbard spins an adept and quite catchy web of a melody with her voice and acoustic guitar. A simple descending melody is doubled on guitar and a mellow reed-instrument (sax I believe) amidst the clang of finger cymbals. The track is deceptively simple, the arrangement always seems more lush that it actually is because Hubbard's melodic stylings are doing the heavy lifting. When she hits the beautiful lilting bridge, I'm sold. The record's already a keeper.
The tracks never leave off in silence, the field recordings continue between songs and are sometimes joined by slowly unfolding instrumental passages and even a little oscillator and junk percussion. "The City, an Ancient Open Sore" rambles along on the strums of an acoustic guitar, slightly out of tune for added flavor. While the guitarwork is more shabby here than the previous track, Hubbard's vocals are crisp as can be and lead the charge admirably. Hubbard's intonations remind me a bit of Joanna Newsom's but significantly less eccentric; her voice is quite pleasant to these ears.
"Left Naked by the Tide" comes off like a much gentler Shadow Ring. Repetitive chunky guitar stomps along in semi-atonal stupor debating with Hubbard's soft vocals. Hubbard breaks out the old piano for the sparse and sullen closer, "Our Mutinous Minds" and it's a thoroughly gorgeous piece of music. With Hubbard's lovely voice and stark piano hits contrasting with the rustling and occasional chatter of the field recordings. It's a particularly elegant way to end such a great, overarching work.
This record was my first experience with Shep and Me, the duo of Matthew Himes and H. Caleb Gamble, and I had little idea of what to expect. When I saw the first song was titled "A Poem by Jim Thompson" and was adapted from South of Heaven, I was already hooked. A high-pitched, idiosyncratic drawl leaps from the grooves with subtle backing from a purring waveform oscillator and guitar jangling halfway between hangdog and jaunty. Of course, the lyrics are great as Thompson's a fantastic writer but Himes and Gamble do a great job bringing life to the words. After the mournful ballad, a pick-me-up is in store. Fitting the bill nicely is "Downbound" a sprightly instrumental (unless you count infectious whistling as vocals) featuring dual acoustic guitars (one nylon, one steel) and thumping percussion. Speaking of whistling, "Leaves on the Breeze" features a couple of charming whistle solos. "Breeze" is a really well-written song, very classic but not without a certain complexity and oddness to it. That statement is really true of Shep and Me's side as a whole--the duo's music is prototypical yet unmistakable. "Like a Dog" matches the Caethua side with tapes of barking dogs embedded deep in the song's canvas. It's a lonesome song and couched perfectly in the dog's incessant barking and desperate need for attention. The final track, "Over and Over," introduces a muted rhythm generator and distorted lap steel, shifting the dynamic a little more toward the primal and agitated. The blurry, buzzing lap steel feels really wonderful after a relatively quiet and tastefully unadorned record, both sides included. All in all, "Tube-Mind" is a particularly great and eccentric side of minor chord ballads.
Like the Century Plants/Locrian LP I recently reviewed, these two sides are perfect companions. Each side works beautifully as a stand-alone recording yet their presence on the same object complements one another superbly.
I've had this record for a while now and listened to it many, many times and it somehow continues to become more dear to me each time the needle drops. Lighten Up Sounds obviously has a lot of faith in this record, as it well should, considering they've put such a nice package together and pressed 500 copies. They're selling them for $15 postpaid in the US which sounds fair to me. Really great record, if you missed the tape then here's your second chance, don't let this pass you by again.

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