Eyes Set Against the Sun

Myth Takes

Warp Works & Twentieth Century Masters

[Warp Records, www.warprecords.com]

Anyone who's been following Warp's progressive roster over the last few years, has realized the label has a schizophrenic mindset. On one hand, they'll release strictly d'n'b records from Squarepusher, follow this up with straight soul from Jamie Lidell and wash it all down with Maximo Park's post-ska, punk-rock. Latest batch of releases from Warp continues on in the same vein, each one offering something different from a separate musical genre.
For an artist who is so close to nature, it's only obvious that an album like "Eyes Set Against the Sun" would feel so full of natural sources. Having always recorded sounds of nature, South African, UK-native Chantal Passamonte [aka Mira Calix] comes out with a full length that is dripping with sounds of the woods. If you've not heard her unique sound before, you're bound to be in for a bit of a shock. Variety of aural material makes it to the final mix that have been sourced directly from backwoods of her rural Suffolk residence. To say these sounds are at their best bizarre is a grand understatement. If anything, they represent Passamonte's [unhealthy?] obsession with nature. Though that is probably a violin on "Because to Why", it could very well be the sound of a caged fly making music. The way it's humming a tune reminds one of a humid summer day, when all windows in the house are open, allowing the air to circulate. Elsewhere crickets are sampled and what could pass for hooting owls. One of the more lovelier pieces is an extended piano soliloquy "Eeilo", where Passamonte allows a minimal piano melody to set the mood of her environ. "The Way You Are When" features a pensive bass-cello counterpoint that gives much breathing space for insect samples to come through. Oddly enough, the pieces and disparate sounds are stitched together in quite a sensible way. If things don't immediately make sense, they do on a subsequent listening session. Few of the pieces have a distinctly orchestral feel, which is only natural given Passamonte's involvement with London Sinfonietta. Rhythms that come about are not something that one can dance to. Let's face it, this is ambitious music and as such forces the listener into a very unique world. A world where a darker, more sinister subtext exists underneath the green, flower filled meadow.
Third offering from British eight piece !!! titled "Myth Takes" was apparently supposed to be pronounced with a lisp, which would make the actual title Mistakes. If you think this is simply a throw-the-cat-in-the-bag affair, then you're about half-way there. These guys don't like to mess around with genres, they simply expound everything that's on their musical tongue and let things rip. Rock, kraut-stuff, disco, post-punk, dub, all done with a healthy dose of the DIY aesthetic. Fearless leader, Nic Offer still has a voice that is unaffected as ever by all that is going on around him. You'd figure the guy would get somewhat more excited and insert some emotion where called for. His sneer makes me ill with jealousy. The cool-guy image [which is what I refer to my 3 year old son] makes it easy to assess everything he does with a certain degree of distance. Once you remove yourself from the vocals, you're in boogie-land, my friend. Funk, rock and disco with a heavily repetitive beat are everywhere. This is as good a serving of dance-boogie as you'll get all year. "Heart of Hearts" is heavy on the drums and comes clean with a stingy, muddy beat, while "Bend Over Beethoven" is a snarly loose beat served up over a bed of guitars and modified basses. The "don't, don't stop" vocals make you horny as hell and pump even more energy out of your body than all the tracks that came before. "Sweet Life" starts off like a weirdly tinged ballad, but midway through moves into an obtuse rock number. "AEECCCDD" sees Offer scream with an actual tinge of emotion [surprise!]. Disco reappears on "Break in Case of Anything" and is one of the many numbers that gives the release a retro feel. No brainer prediction - "Myth Takes" will be one of the ultimate hits on the dance floor this year.
Under the slogan "Musicians and Machines", Warp along with the London Sinfonietta launched a series of concerts in 2003 and 2004. The two CD collection that followed "Warp Works & Twentieth Century Masters" presents documentation of the three concerts given at the time. The whole project was meant to shed new light on 20th century composers and to offer a new twist to some of Warp's better selling artists. As artistic director of the London Sinfonietta points out "This is no crossover - it's unexpected juxtaposition, in the belief that the different kinds of music shed light on each other." Surely enough, Steve Reich's mellow and hypnotic masterpiece "Six Marimbas" sits well side by side Squarepusher's percussion heavy "Conc 2 Symmetriac". This is followed by John Cage's "Sonata 5 & 6" [beautifully interpreted by pianist Rolf Hind - in a stellar inside piano exploration], which is then very logically proceeded by Aphex Twin's "AFX237 V7", which sees the Sinfonietta sparkle and shine in their search for the right tones. My personal favourites are the two "Prepared Piano Pieces" by Aphex Twin that sees Clive Williamson strike jangle chords on the piano [sounds like there's a wooden block placed on the strings] and the dazzling rendition of Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Spiral". As done by saxophonist Simon Haram and electronics provided by Sound Intermedia, the piece is given a new level of subtlety and drone-like preciousness. Highly recommended release from a label that continues to put out some fine albums from a multitude of musical genres.

- Tom Sekowski

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