When taken as a whole — meaning in all its sonic, visual, and conceptual components — Music From The Impossible Salon, the latest longplayer from Idea Fire Company, is a deliberate exercise in acute starkness. Stripped down to the core duo of Scott Foust and Karla Borecky, we find IFCO crafting a record at its base elements, even devoid of their usual elaborate manifestos and inserts. It seems that here we are left to decide what Foust and Borecky in this piece of work are asking us to confront or what central idea generated the sound produced herein. An hypothesis on my end is one of explicit contrasts, most often the gorgeous up against the unseemly and the primitive against the mechanical, ideas that perhaps have made an impact on the group’s recent sojourns (such as 2008’s superb The Island Of Taste) but that here seem laid bare, an appropriate approach allowing the concentration that these sparse pieces deserve.
“Open Sesame” opens the record with a gorgeous piano figure by Borecky, her repetition of this melody creating a retreat into euphoria with only Foust interrupting the mood with what appears as a breathless struggle with a trombone. Foust’s false notes and bleats on the instrument are comparatively pained and pathetic, perhaps ruining the overall pleasantry. But this contrast — between the conventionally appealing and something much more off-putting and explicitly imperfect — is a compelling, if not oft-visited, motif in the duo’s travels.
The following pieces foreground said contrast in more digestible forms. “Beauty Lessons” finds Borecky repeating another piano figure, this one less wistful than the one that opened the album, recalling an unfinished melodic idea looped into infinity, while Foust’s synth sputters into a highly percussive state, the electronics hearkening more to someone pounding on a table than the assumed artificiality one might associate with this sound source. “Romance” follows in similar suit, Foust’s synth pounding out a stuttering pattern while Borecky finds more ease in her piano repetitions. The careful balance of both the organic and synthetic is exquisitely registered on these pieces, the mix never favoring one over the other, thus allowing these paradoxically concurrent and divergent elements to exist in a perpetual state of synergy. We hear the same in “The Life Of The Party,” which closes the first half of the album with Foust’s careful manipulation of a radio that timidly rises then fearfully sinks back into nothingness against Borecky’s almost-mournful piano chords.
The following side commences with “Grotto Of Erotic Desires,” showcasing a noticeably disjointed piano figure augmented by a percolating synth and more gargled tones from a trombone. The rollicking thump that throbs throughout the piece, one of the few moments on this album that foregrounds a blatant rhythmic pulse, may appear as a confounding change of pace, but its expert subtlety still plays along with the modes constructed earlier.
“The Clam Room” moves into more familiar contextual territory, the piano sliding downward both on the actual keyboard and in the spectrum of volume, allowing the sparsely placed coughs of radio clatter and synth pulsations to guide the overall ebb into a rather unpredictable flow. By the time we get to closing works “Memories” and “Last Dance,” a satisfyingly familiar construct has been established; although these two pieces tread in familiar mannerisms, they never feel unwelcome or intrusive. Indeed, the propulsive beauty and eased pace of these pieces act as a well-earned victory lap of sorts, the duo using the freedom that comes with the awareness of a successful achievement to motion themselves into a sort of blissful stasis.
As with all of IFCO’s albums, Music From The Impossible Salon reveals itself upon each listen as the focused and nuanced masterwork that it is. IFCO have perhaps never sounded this barren despite the piano/synth/radio ambiance of The Island Of Taste pointing in this direction. Whereas that record used its help from friends to work the duo’s minimalism to more Eno-esque ends, recalling at times a handmade meld of the most obtuse aspects of Music For Airports and On Land, Impossible Salon is a reward in patience, with nothing more than the duality of the familiar and the otherworldly guiding one into a deceptively simple yet richly compelling collection.