Saturday, October 20, 2012

Kirtan Choir - The Unquestioned Answer [Skrot Up]

This cassette by Kirtan Choir was a little bit unexpected coming from Skrot Up which has made a name on a lot of nasty sounding stuff from the gothic nether regions. I'm talking bands like Grave Babies and FNU Ronnies and noise mongers like AG Davis. Unlike the previous names mentioned, Kirtan Choirs music is much more orchestral in nature.
The trio, consisting of Barbara Arriaga (cello, voice), C.J. Boyd (bass guitar, harmonica, cymbals, voice) and Jim Edwards (sampling), reminded me immediately of Godspeed You! Black Emperor when I first listened. They obviously have a significantly pared down lineup (it's unclear but I don't believe Edwards performed with the others on the first and third pieces but was solely responsible for re-working the second piece from pre-recorded material.) The other major difference from the aformentioned Canadian post-rock symphony is the duo of Boyd and Arriaga improvise their material.
You wouldn't automatically think "Beast with Two Backs" is improvised considering how lovely and wistful it is. Arriaga's work on the cello is fantastic and Boyd works simple little melodies around her long bowed strokes. It sounds like there is some multi-tracked embellishing, but Arriaga and Boyd clearly have chemistry together, creating the illusion of more than two people playing and seeming able to guess each others next move at any given moment. This is a really wonderful performance, particularly near the end when Boyd delivers measured chords and Arriaga alternates between intricate, chugging melodies and lonesome howls
"The AIDS Industry" sounds like material was recorded by Boyd and Arriaga and then handed over to Edwards to refashion. I'm unable to tell if he's working with material featured in the other two pieces but he's at least using material that appears in the third piece--or perhaps it's the third piece that's using his material. Edwards's hand certainly pushes the Kirtan Choir into another direction. Often shrouded in digital crackle, he samples and splices various melodies together creating a much more propulsive, rhythmically-driven version of the band. It's an interesting experiment though the unadulterated improvisations are more to my taste.
As alluded to earlier, the beginning of "Life After Near Death" overlaps with "The AIDS Industry." After a few minutes though a glistening harmonica drone fades in and Arriaga's cello is as melancholy as ever. This section eventually segues into an array of voices before reintroducing the cello and harmonica producing a gloriously enveloping blanket of sound. I have a hard time believing this was improvised, but either way, this is good stuff regardless.
Unfortunately, only 60 tapes were made and they appear to be long gone. It looks like the album was also released on CD from Canadian label Jeunesse Cosmique though. It's well worth a little research to track it down though.

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