Tongue Depressor: Burnish LP

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Kali Malone and Maria W. Horn's XKatedral label deliver an incredible album of empyrean chimes and subterranean drones from out-musick duo Tongue Depressor. It’s an in-depth exploration of tuned percussion and just intoned drone that comes highly recommended if you’re into the work of Tony Conrad, C.C. Hennix, John Cage, Philip Corner and Michael Ranta - or if you’re into church bells, gamelan, or Popol Vuh's earliest meditations. Floored. With a mesmerising grasp of rhythmelodic delicacy and skin-shivering microtonal tunings, ‘Burnish’ makes for a memorable introduction, where needed, to the remarkably attuned intuitions of Tongue Depressor, aka Zach Rowden (aluminium bowls, organ) and Henry Birdsey (orchestral bells, lap steel guitar). Recording and performing together since 2017, with some 20 tape and LP releases to their name, the New Haven, Connecticut pairing are one-take artists whose familiarity with each other’s style results in a such a closely shared musical system or language that it effectively blurs distinctions between improvisation and composition. On ‘Burnish’ they explore aspects of a chiming sublime and its phantasmic, doomier inverse with utterly compelling results. Both pieces of ‘Burnish’ were recorded in 2019 and feel like long rituals, played with a patience and rigour that effortlessly seduces to their sounds’ liminal, tip-of-tongue appeal. Typically laid to 1⁄4” tape on a reel-to-reel machine, the results create absorbing landscapes from their struck objects and sonorous resonances; rendering haptic gestures with an air-bending magic rooted in millennia of microtonal practice, done to instantly gratifying effect that only becomes enhanced with durational immersion. The A-side’s ‘Graver’s Block’ spellbinds with its suspenseful lattice of lissom timbral cadence and plasmic rhythmic diffractions hinting at Michael Ranta’s eastern fixations played in Harry Bertoia’s Sonambient barn. It trades strings for bells, with Birdsey on an orchestral set and Rowden playing hand-cast aluminium bowls. They were influenced by change ringing, a style of bell ringing usually found in British churches that uses a set of tuned bells played in often non-repeating mathematical sequences, but repurposed here to take on a completely new form that conjures the spirit of Gamelan as chimes rattle and phase past scraped metallic clangs. Side B’s ‘Monocline’ however locks into a treacly thick, just intoned drone of molten metal ooze recalling KTL via Tony Conrad and C.C. Hennix’s shark-eyed focus, layering organ and lap steel in an attempt to reference both 20th century minimalism and American folk music. They nail it too, slipping into a sacred mode that harmonises with Popol Vuh's "In den Gärten Pharaos" - all light-headed organ nausea and tense, wavering tones that seem to mimic ancient incantations. Together, these two long pieces are the audio equivalent of lighting a thurible and suspending yourself in holy devotion. Just masterful business.

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