Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review - Book of Knots - Garden of Fainting Stars

With Garden of Fainting Stars Book of Knots completes a trilogy of albums examining failed ventures by land, sea and air, this latest album being the “air” offering. The Knots consist of Joel Hamilton, producer for BlakRoc and Pretty Lights; Tony Maimone of Pere Ubu and Frank Black; Carla Kohlstedt of Tin Hat Trio and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Mattias Bossi of Skeleton Key and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Joining them are a collage of hand picked similarly experimental guest artists. Such as Mike Patton.

The sound, as on past albums, is dark, mechanized, textured and atmospheric, often lumbering along like a walking tank thrown together from spare parts, clanking elegantly as its very motion threatens to tear itself apart. A clear example is “Moondust Must” where Nils Frykdahl and Dawn McCarthy provide crooning vocals over a crashing, disjointed rhythm section, starting and stopping but ever advancing until falling into a melodic chorus of “Moondust must look like gunpowder.” The title track likewise has a plodding, heavy verse rhythm (thanks in large part to Moe! Staiano doing a fantastic job of percussively persuading sheet metal to sound musical) while Elyas Khan adds haunting, creepy vocals that may keep you up at night. The comparatively simple final track, “Obituary for the Future,” sounds a bit like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum-lite, though not without treading fearlessly into dissonance and ending with the lunatic rantings of the last man on Earth frantically trying to reach anyone who might be listening to his radio transmission. However it’s the leading song, “Monogravity”, that I find the most enjoyable, mostly in that it is actually song-like in structure with a cohesive melody formed in verses and a chorus, albeit one with distorted buzzing noises and dark grinding guitars dropping in and out as they see fit as they accompany the tale of early experiments where monkeys were blasted into space to see if they would survive.

There are also a number of more serene experiments, such as the ambient “Lossjous Orbit” which consists of echo-drenched violin, spoken word and some kind of metallic plucked or hammered instrument, probably of the bands own making. Likewise “All This Nothing” is absolutely calming with a sea of reverb trails floating in space while a subdued mega-overdriven “something” makes the random noises of some kind of flatulent space whale. “Nebula Rasa” is also low key with growling bass harmonicas laying the foundation for piano, bells, and a nursery-rhyme kind of melody underneath a grainy vocal that screams in from time to time. The strangest track, and that’s saying something for this album, is “Drosophilia Melangaster” where Blixa Bargeld recounts horrible tales of flying in economy class and drinks mysteriously full of fruit flies. If the quiet yet eerie music and uneasy vocal patterns don’t freak you out turn off the lights and wait until Bargeld ends the song with hair-raising inhuman squeals. Whether serene or jaunty, this group of multi-instrumentalists keep things sonically interesting by playing traditional instruments as well as a few rarely heard and some only recently invented. Indeed, amongst company like cembalom, marxophone, optigan, saz, and maybell guitar the theramin played here must feel as old fashioned and common as a piano.

Garden of Fainting Stars is not, as a whole, a comfortable listen. It’s a pretty bleak journey and you probably won’t find yourself humming along while you fold the laundry or give the kids a bath. But for the person bored by music all sounding the same this latest and final collection of challenging songs, filled with creatively constructed songs and populated by otherworldly sounds may be just the thing to excite the imagination.

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