Monday, July 16, 2012

The Collection of the Late Howell Bend - Beasts for While [Ownness]/Rory Hinchey/The Collection of the Late Howell Bend - Shape is Nature/Long Fields [Ownness]

Pair of long players from Canadian label Ownness displaying two sides of Irene Moon's The Collection of the Late Howell Bend the project, as well as some of Rory Hinchey's work.
One of the first things one notices about Beasts for While is it's an 11" record. Have to say this is the first and only time I've encountered such a thing and I'm not entirely sure what the motivation behind its creation would be. Maybe there was a recession special on 11"s at the plant, or maybe its just in the spirit of the weirdness contained in the grooves
I'm not sure what to call this. I guess you could call it "psych-folk" but this is bad trip psychedelic folk. It feels weird calling it "folk" as the thing sounds like it was recorded almost exclusively with Casios--typically on the "harpischord" setting--but the songs have this sort of shambling vibe that I would undoubtedly label as "folk" if it had been rproduced with more acoustic instrumentation. 
This is seriously loopy stuff, but not in the typical, outrageous way. The performers present themselves in rather stately fashion, it just happens that the instrumentation chosen, production values and in certain cases the performance itself are less than pristine. All those bits of grit and deviation amount to an odd piece of work.
Irene Moon is joined by Krysten Davis and Chantelle Dorsey on Beasts for While but no clues are given as to who's playing what, or what's being played. "Ruby in the Dust" has a procession-like quality to it. Two keyboards march forward in step with each other while an oscillator goes haywire. At least two of the performers chant the lyrics in unison, with each taking a different approach to "singing." One chooses a soft, melodic coo and other, with a deeper and huskier voice is practically speaking. A drum machine springs to life haphazardly in the second half of the track inspiring a speedy, crusty Casio solo.
"Dominated by Splendor" features a cyclical piano line via Moon and one of the other performers providing some Casio counterpoints. The lyrics, once again doubled, are sung in semi-ghoulish fashion with eerie bits of electronics hammering the message home. The folkloric lyrics about the autumn harvest end with the rather ominous passage of "The dark of night is passing away/But what is found in the blackness will stay/For autumn leaves fall from the greenest of trees/In the end finding only what you want to believe."
On the second side, "Haha" bounces along on a springy Casio tone, with the rhythm of a ticking clock. The Collection fill the track with impenetrable, cryptic lyrics like "Time well spent is time not lost/Time well spent is time forgot" and "Time in halves is time times two" which ultimately end in uproarious laughter and a wigged out oscillator. Whether they're laughing at themselves or at you remains unclear. "Neenawwww" follows the absurdity with a mellow instrumental. Sonically, its of the same ilk as the preceding songs but has a different feel minus the vocals. It's a little unexpected to end on an instrumental but it actually works well as transportation from the world of the Late Howell Bend back to reality. 
The Collection of the Late Howell Bend split this Shape is Nature/Long Fields LP with Rory Hinchey, head honcho of Ownness. To say the music contained on this full-sized LP to the 11" is a departure is an understatement. Putting it generally, this LP is 11 tracks of gorgeous chamber music. That said Irene Moon's signature chunky, piano-driven style is present on this record just as much if not moreso than Beasts for While but the dynamic and whole mentality behind the compositions is vastly different.
Hinchey's side is first and it's a pretty minimalist affair working with organ, wine glasses, electronics and tones. The first of six pieces, "Shape is Nature," unfolds over the quiet coo of wine glasses, Hinchey's reedy organ makes measured shifts between notes, making a gradual ascent. Not until the end of the track does a second organ (or Hinchey's second hand as the case may be) enter the picture to elaborate on the basic melody. Hinchey is joined by Alison Corbett on violin for "By Means of the Third" and "Objective (mk II)." "By Means of the Third" is incredibly exquisite. For being purely organ and violin the opening seconds are surprisingly lush. Both Hinchey and Corbett suspend long, lingering notes that play off each other just beautifully. The composition and arrangement is so simple yet it's lovely and rather stunning with a gentle, melancholic sensation; it may be the high point of the entire record.
The evil twin of "By Means of the Third," "Objective (mk II)" is much more atonal than its predecessor but its approach is otherwise very similar. Hinchey and Corbett sustain notes that just can't seem to get along, recalling the work of various 20th century composers, creating a field of agitation on the precipice of something dire. "All is as Nothing" lightens the mood a tad with a sprightly yet still lilting organ melody.
Hinchey delves back into uneasy territory with "The Listener." The piece juxtaposes two organ lines with electronic whine and splatter. Hinchey keeps the electronics on a short leash, preventing them from wreaking any havoc, but he still allows them to muss up the organ's hair a bit. The composition is pretty interesting, it'd be neat to see it arranged for a large ensemble. The finale "Thank You, Ahead of Time" uses the "tones" section of Hinchey's palette. He creates a slow procession of sustained electronic tones that take you to the end of the side.   
The Collection of the Late Howell Bend is in another trio format here, with Irene Moon on piano and Hinchey and Corbett joining her on organ and violin, respectively. The pieces were all composed for piano by Moon and Hinchey arranged them for the recording.
The brief opener "Flight of the Unsuspecting Lark" was an instant favorite. Based around a waltzing, gently dizzying melody the track is utterly beautiful. Making it all the more gorgeous is Corbett's multi-tracked violin work. "Dominated by Splendor" is starkly structured as well with a simple nearly percussive piano melody while the organ and violin provide subtle, supportive counterpoints. Hinchey uses Corbett wisely in his arrangements throughout the side and here she keeps a relatively low profile until the final minute or so when she's allowed to cut loose a little with more florid melodies.
"Hand in Question" is perhaps even more austere, moving at a slower tempo as well. The piano and violin double each other the majority of the time but diverge at significant moments, slowing growing apart through the duration of the piece.
"Pheasants be Forewarned" may top the opener as the centerpiece of the side. Moon's piano provides a propulsive, repetitive melody for Corbett's violin to play off of with syncopated, staccato notes--some of the finest moments of the record. Hinchey's organ all the while acts like a wallflower lingering in the background, laying the groundwork for the other two instruments' dance. 
"Long Fields" was originally released on a compilation via Pineapple Tapes, the defunct cassette division of Swill Radio, and is given a new lease on life with its inclusion here. Hinchey's organ is front and center here, while Moon's piano hammers bass notes on the far left side of her keyboard. The emphasis on the trudging piano and humming organ makes for a more stolid affair than the previous tracks that showcased the winding violin lines. This is such great stuff; somewhere between neo-classical chamber music and mood music for films a la the work of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
The Beasts for While 11" is on red vinyl and comes in a full-size jacket with some wild/grotesque artwork. The split LP looks much more stately and austere, with a no-nonsense sleeve and heavy black vinyl. Unfortunately the split is out of print (repress! repress!) but Beasts for While is still in print and available from Ownness.

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