Charalambides is the band started in Houston in 1991 by Tom Carter, former
guitarist for the Mike Gunn, with his wife
Christina Carter. The duo debuted with the 100-minute cassette
Our Bed Is Green (Mutual Admiration Society, 1992 - Wholly Other, 1995 - Kranky, 2004), a chaotic collection of psychedelic ragas, demented ballads and avantgarde music; and the band excels at each, second only to
Tea is a hypnotic litany over lazy strumming and a shrill wavering drone, evoking the Velvet Underground's first album for a generation drowsed by alienation. Other vocal tracks include the brief choral Bid You Goodnight, the whispered madrigal The Core, the loud-guitar lullaby of C.G., and the charming Final (that, despite the
background noises and samples, has an almost baroque-like quality),
all of them based on simple, primitive melodies.
The notable exception is Same Old Routine, a seven-minute lament
(but defenitely not a highlight).
The avantgarde "section" is perhaps the most intriguing, despite the fact that
ideas are barely sketched and then abandoned.
The Treadmill (alas, only two minutes long) is musique concrete set to a rock rhythm, like MC5 teaming with Pierre Henry to score a videogame,
The atonal carillon of Stuttgart gets lost in a dream world of fair music and tape manipulation.
The more properly psychedelic tracks also manage to be original in a field
that has been inflated for decades.
The distorted guitar intones the solemn spiritual of Pase El Agoa over a massive drone of church-like organ, the nightmarish spoken-piece I Don't Know You, the super-dilated raga of Faze Her (drenched in a claustrophobic atmosphere of booming dissonances), the hysterical solo of Neutron Decay,
and the rousing cosmic anthem of Strange Matter.
Finally, and to complement everything else,
guitars have roots, and they show it in repetitive instrumental pieces, that seem incapable of escaping the fascination of the archaic structures, incapable of evolving into fully-formed "songs": the folkish, upbeat theme of Take the Pointing Finger for the Moon, the bluesy figures of Black Pope. They sound like the intro to a song repeated ad infinitum, the John Fahey-ian meditation of Silver Reeds.
A spectacular synthesis of these styles is given in
the lengthy (finally) elegy of Cosmic String, a duet of vibrato organ and wah-wah guitar (with some distant humming on the side)
The absence of percussion adds to (rather than detracting from) the overall
sense of drama.
Tom Carter's 35-minute Shepherd at Lexington (Digitalis, 2008)
was recorded in 1991 but was released only 17 years later.
Properly edited, it would have ranked as the standout track of Our Bed Is Green.
Union (Siltbreeze, 1994) showed progress in tape-based composing:
Carter integrates wordless singing, samples of gospel recordings and
guitar freak-outs in a more homogeneous sponge.
In 1993 third member Jason Bill was added and the
cassette Historic Sixth Ward (1994 - Siltbreeze, 1996 - Time Lag, 2002),
which abandoned the radical noisy approach in favor of a surreal form
of psychedelic folk.
The hallucinatory quality of their music is better revealed by
their fourth album, the double
Market Square (Siltbreeze, 1995), a glorious sendup of
Red Krayola and Popol Vuh at their most deranged.
The single Devils (Playtime, 1995) marks a return to the moody
On the compilation Harmony of the Spheres (Drunken Fish, 1996)
Charalambides contribute Naked In Our Deathskins, a lengthy, suspenseful
raga of dissonant guitars, strummed to radiate abrasive tones in all directions.
The singer's hymn rises amid the ruins until it is swallowed in a gale of
Jason Bill, who quit the group in 1997, also recorded Via St Louis (Drunken Fish, 1998) with
Pelt's Jack Rose.
The album opens with the 11-minute guitar feedback of
Revolution Of The Stars and
Sting Of The Yellow Jackets is more of the same, just louder and faster.
You Are Not Of My People features strings bowed to the limit,
mercilessly pinched and sawed.
And even if King George County steals the melody from
Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, the
duets with saxophone and accordion testify to Bill's true genius.
Jason Bill is also in a duo with Caroline Vickers, the Migrantes,
this time based in Tucson (Arizona), whose Moon Journals (Eclipse, 2001)
offers soft psychedelia in the vein of David Crosby's If I COuld Only Remember.
Christina Carter also has a side project, Scorces (Wholly Sided, 2001),
involved with a more experimental sound.
The amount of processing is terrifying on Charalambides'
Houston (Siltbreeze, 1999), whose
Dancing and especially Midnight Chants
are mere layers of noises and voice.
The album was followed by the 40-minute limited-edition CDROM,
Yih (Carbon, 2001) and by the split album
Songs From the Entopic Garden Volume Two (Time-Lag, 2002), a tribute
to Popol Vuh.
The band is now reduced to the duo of Tom and Christina Carter.
Tom Carter also plays in Primordial Undermind.
Being As Is (Crucial Blast, 2002) is another limited-edition CD-ROM,
and the sound is floating towards a kind of languid slo-core.
Unknown Spin (Kranky, 2003) is a live improvised avantgarde experiment by
Tom and Christina Carter with vocalist and pedal-steel guitarist Heather Leigh Murray.
Unknown Spin, a 30-minute piece, begins with disjointed guitar tones drifting languidly in a shapeless universe. Slowly the wordless vocals of the two women join the ghostly symphony. They disappear the same way they appeared, leaving no trace. What is left (twenty minutes into the piece) is the hypnotic, slow-motion contrast between the graceful tinkling of a guitar and the dissonant droning of the other. Despite being quiet, subdued and unstructured, the piece has its own emotional force that originates from the stream of consciousness.
Unfortunately, the shorter tracks sound like repetitions of the same idea.
The voices work more magic in Skin of Rivers
and the guitars weave more suspense in Magnolia, but, basically,
the album has already "spun" everything in the eponymous monolith.
Christina Carter released Bastard Wing (Eclipse, 2003)
Tom Carter released Root King (Eclipse, 2003), that collects
three minimalists compositions.
Charalambides' studio album
Joy Shapes (Kranky, 2004), recorded by the trio of
vocalist Christine Carter, guitarist Tom Carter and
pedal-steel guitarist Heather Leugh Murray,
is an ambitious work that reaches beyond psychedelia, in the territory
of avantgarde music and free-jazz.
The ghastly 22-minute soundscape of Here Not Here is the main
exhibit: the show revolves around Christine Carter's free-form vocals,
a harrowing and challenging stream of consciousness that dives into
the grisly maze of the psyche,
borrowing techniques from Patty Waters and Jeanne Lee.
The background for her identity crisis is a concerto of dissonant
guitar tones that perfectly mirrors the voice's melodrama.
However, Christine Carter's showcase is Joy Shapes.
At the beginning, her sensual/angelic wailing evokes
Gong's vocalist Gilli Smyth. It then mutates
into an operatic ecstasy, and ends in a gentle languor.
This is more than a musical piece: it is a psychological study
of the state of joy.
The 15-minute Voice For You has the most streamlined used of the
voice. It is a slow, steady, monotonous crescendo with religious overtones,
Popol Vuh's Hosianna Mantra.
When (after eight minutes) it reaches the apex, it decays into a lengthy
acid guitar jam.
The 17-minute Natural Night is another colossal dissertation
for voice and noise. A high vocal note sets the reference point for
the guitar improvisation. A shimmering, tinkling texture takes shape,
and the voice disappears. A mirage appears in its place from the tinkling
fog of guitars and percussion: it's a guitar noise that sounds like a bird,
and that flies away in a chorus of fading distortions.
Vocals are also sidelined by the aggressive strumming
and harsh tones of Stroke, that boasts a
hypnotic minimalist coda in the vein of Terry Riley's In C.
This album brings together the disparate harmonic elements that the Carter
duo has been developing over the years. The result transcends psychedelic
music and stands as an impressive in the genre of chamber lieder.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Paolo Latini) |
Charalambides è una band di Houston formata
nel 1991 da Tom Carter, già chitarrista di Mike
Gunn, isnieme alla moglie Christina Carter. Il duo ha debuttato con
la cassetta di 100 minuti Our Bed Is Green (Mutual Admiration Society,
1992 - Wholly Other, 1995), una collezione caotica di raga psichedelici,
ballate stralunate e tape manipulation d'avanguardia.
Union (Siltbreeze, 1994) segna un progresso nella composizione
basata sulla tape-manipulation: la Carter integra in modo molto omogeneo
un wordless singing, samples di registrazioni gospel recordings e freak-outs
Nel 1993 si unisce al duo un terzo membro, Jason Bill, e ed esce la
cassetta Historic Sixth Ward (1994 - Siltbreeze, 1996 - Time Lag,
2002), che segna l'abbandono dell'approccio rumorosamente radicale in favore
di una forma surreale di folk psichedelico.
La qualità allucinata della loro musica è meglio attestata
dal loro quarto album, il doppio Market Square (Siltbreeze,
1995), un glorioso tributo ai Red Krayola e ai Popol Vuh più deragliati.
Il singolo Devils (Playtime, 1995) segna un ritorno alla ballata
Sulla compilation Harmony of the Spheres (Drunken Fish, 1996)
i Charalambides contribuiscono con Naked In Our Deathskins, un lungo
raga pieno di suspence di chitarre dissonanti, strimpellate per irradiare
in ogni direzione dei toni abrasivi. L'inno della cantante cresce tra le
rovine fino ad essere risucchiato da un vortice di distorsioni.
Jason Bill registra Via St Louis (Drunken Fish, 1998) insieme
a Jack Rose dei Pelt.
L'album si apre con gli 11 minuti di feedback chitarristico di Revolution
Of The Stars e Sting Of The Yellow Jackets è sulla stessa
falsa riga, solo più rumorosa e veloce.
You Are Not Of My People
presenta degli archi suonati al limite, pizzicati e segati senza pietà.
E anche se King George County ruba la melodia di Wish You Were
Here dei Pink Floyd, i duetti tra sassofono e accordion dimostrano
il genio di Bill.
Jason Bill è attivo anche in un duo insieme a Caroline Vickers,
i Migrantes, di base a Tucson (Arizona), il cui Moon Journals (Eclipse,
2001) offre una soffice psichedelia, nella vena del David Crosby di If
I Could Only Remember.
Anche Christina Carter ha un suo progetto parallelo, e Scorces
(Wholly Sided, 2001), presenta sonorità più sperimentali.
I Charalambides tornano con Houston (Siltbreeze, 1999), di cui
e specialmente Midnight Chants cono meri livelli di rumori
L'album è stato seguito da un CDROM di 40 minuti in edizione
Yih (Carbon, 2001) e dall'album Songs From the Entopic
Garden Volume Two (Time-Lag, 2002), un tributo ai Popol Vuh. La band
torna ad essere il duo di partenza, foramto da Tom e Christina Carter.
Tom Carter suona anche nei Primordial
Being As Is (Crucial Blast, 2002) è un altro
CD-ROM in edizione limitata, e il sound sta scivolando verso una languida
forma di slo-core.
Unknown Spin (Kranky, 2003) è un esperimento d'avanguardai
improvvisato dal vivo insieme a Heather Leigh Murray (chitarrista che suona
Unknown Spin, una piece di 30 minuti, inizia con
una dei toni di chitarri disgiunti che si accumulano languidamente in un
universo informe. Lentamente, le wordless vocals delle due cantanti si
uniscono in una sinfonia spettrale. Scompaiono nello stesso modo in cui
compaiono, non lasciando traccia. Quel che resta (venti minuti) è
l'ipnotico contrasto in slow-motion tra l'aggrazziato tintinnio di una
chitarra e il drone dissonante dell'altra. Anche se quieta, mansueta e
non strutturata, la piece ha la sua forza emotiva che nasce da un flusso
di coscienza. Sfortunatamente, le tracce più brevi sembrano ripetere
la stessa idea. Le voci hanno più magia in Skin of Rivers
e i chitarristi danno maggior suspence in Magnolia, ma, fondamentalmente,
l'album ha già "tessuto" tutto nell'eponimo monolite.